WMU introduces Google Apps for Education

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News
Graphic depicting Google Apps for Education.

Google Apps for Education at WMU was introduced Jan. 6.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University has adopted a suite of Web-based productivity tools and storage from Internet giant Google that will improve collaboration and productivity for teaching and learning.

Starting Jan. 6, Google Apps for Education—GAE—at WMU became available to all members of the University community who have a wmich.edu email account. A group of five faculty members and more than 300 students were involved in testing WMU's implementation of GAE and in successfully piloting its implementation this past fall.

According to Google, GAE is ushering in the "paperless classroom," moving schedules, assignments, class discussions and feedback, tests, team projects, and more to the Web.

WMU is offering the core applications of GAE and initially is focusing on enhancing the teaching and learning experience for both faculty members and students.

"Educational organizations around the world have already adopted Google Apps for Education," says Adam Newsted, the WMU information technology project manager who is co-managing the project's rollout.

"In addition to WMU, the Kalamazoo and Portage public schools as well as the WMU Cooley Law School have adopted it, and so have all but four state universities in Michigan."

Initial apps available at WMU

WMU's initial rollout of GAE consists of five core apps that are familiar to many people. Newsted says by enabling those products, everyone with an @wmich.edu email account can choose to use them to instantly share and collaborate with anyone else at the University.

He notes that WMU plans to activate additional apps down the road, but there are no plans at this time to replace the University's Webmail email system with Gmail, Google's email system. Those interested in helping to determine which apps will be added next are invited to take the online survey available at wmich.edu/google.

The core apps being offered are:

  • Calendar—for personal and shared calendars.
  • Contacts—for personal, shared and global address books.
  • Drive—for Web-based document editing, using components such as Google Docs, Forms, Spreadsheets, Presentations and Drawings, and for unlimited storage, including support for any type of file up to 5TB each in size.
  • Hangouts—for instant messaging, video chat and Web conferencing.
  • Sites—for personal websites with browser-based authoring.

Benefits of adopting GAE

WMU's GAE suite allows users to create, share and edit files simultaneously and in real-time. Google automatically stores everything in the cloud and provides 24/7 support at no cost to nonprofit institutions such as WMU.

"The WMU community will have a consistent experience regardless of whether they are collaborating by computer, tablet or smartphone, and they will have unlimited storage for free," Newsted says.

"Their documents remain their own property, and Google won't send them advertisements based upon the content of those documents."

He adds that because the technology infrastructure of the GAE system is completely managed in the cloud by Google, adopting GAE means the University will spend minimal money maintaining WMU's connectivity to it.

Dr. Eli Collins-Brown, a GAE expert who is working with Newsted to roll out the suite at WMU, says many of the University's faculty members already use a variety of Google's consumer apps to manage their curricula, provide collaboration for coursework and share information within and between departments.

"GAE gives faculty and students an opportunity to maximize the capabilities of cloud computing and it harnesses users' familiarity with Google apps to increase communication, engagement and collaboration in the classroom," says Collins-Brown, associate director of WMU's Office of Faculty Development and a faculty specialist II of educational leadership, research and technology.

"Google Docs is one of the only collaboration tools that allows multiple users to edit the same document at the same time and track all of their changes and who made them. Just this functionality alone has increased engagement and collaboration."

She says there are numerous common ways GAE can be combined to create an exceptional environment for teaching and learning.

They include using Docs for small-group or learning-team collaboration, Forms for setting up appointments or surveying a class of students for placement on teams, and Hangouts for holding online, real-time office hours or small-group meetings during which group members can work on projects. Another example is using Google Sites to present student-created work and electronic portfolios as well as to upload and share recorded video and audio with or among students.

Importantly, Collins-Brown notes, GAE allows students to initiate collaboration and the sharing of resources.

"Because it produces the same result on the Windows and Mac operating systems, there are no compatibility issues and files can be created and shared on all devices," she says.

"Along with that comes an added benefit—instructors can control user access to all content in every app."

Training opportunities

The Office of Faculty Development is conducting interactive Cool Tools workshops this semester to introduce GAE to faculty members and present ideas on how to incorporate the various tools and apps into courses.

The scheduled workshops that have yet to be held will take place over three Fridays in 2033 University Computing Center. The dates and times are:

  • Feb. 61 to 3 p.m. 
  • Feb. 201 to 3 p.m. 
  • March 139 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.

In addition, GAE will be presented as part of this year's Teaching with Technology Symposium, titled "Teaching the Cloud," from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25, in the Fetzer Center.

Registration is needed for the Cool Tools workshops and is recommended for the symposium. Register online through the Office of Faculty Development website at wmich.edu/facultydevelopment.

Assistance available

The WMU Help Desk is available to assist new GAE users with issues such as logging in, mobile device configuration and data migration from personal Google accounts to the WMU Google accounts. Contact the Help Desk at helpdesk@wmich.edu or (269) 387-4357, option 1.

For more information about Google Apps for Education at WMU, visit wmich.edu/google. This website features self-help links for each enabled Google app along with other resources, including a link to Google's extensive online learning center.

For more news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.