The second part of our look at the free online apps for education from these kingpins of the software industry.
One of the first things that struck me about Google's “Education Edition” of Google Apps was that their informational pages seemed a lot less cluttered than Microsoft's. You get a cleaner, more precise overview, and while there is some depth to the information and links provided, I didn't find myself with the sensation I had on the Microsoft Live@edu pages, where I was quickly lost, clicking from link to link across a seemingly endless set of pages, link, goofy videos, etc. The functionality available in Google's Apps for Education were easy to learn about.
Applications in the Google Apps for Education tool set
- Communication Tools: Email, Messaging, and Shared Calendars
- Collaboration Tools: Google Docs, Google Sites (team website creation), Google Video
- Infrastructure Solutions: Host your own domain, API's for Single Sign-On, Centralized Admin console, and more
Looks like these offerings are pretty similar to those from Microsoft in their Live@edu environment, and much like Microsoft's tools these also work with many common operating systems and browsers. So, how do we dig a bit deeper and learn more?
This list of FAQ's provides organized insight into the tool set, answering many of the questions interested parties might ask. Likewise, the Resource Center is a nicely tailored set of resources providing useful information without an overload of materials. The Resource Center includes a “Just Launched!” section, listing the last few updates to the application set (you can get update notifications via email as well if you wish), a few Webinars (a 30 minute tutorial, and a couple implementation stories from large institutions who have been there and done that).
Another element in the Resource Center is a link to a Lesson Plans tool set, which struck me as a unique and very useful idea. You can look up Lessons by product, subject, and grade level. For example, here's an example of a Lesson Plan for Google Docs, for Science, for 7 to 9th Grade.
One other easy way to learn more is to check out the Video Overview below. While it is not focused specifically on the “Education Edition”, it provides a good overview of the advantages of using Google Apps in any organization. One key benefit discussed – freeing up your IT team to focus on work that is specific to your organization and adds value (as opposed to time spent providing core “commodity level” functionality like email, file storage, etc.). Another benefit – leveraging Google's world class, ‘always on', secure infrastructure. Of course, these benefits could easily cited for Microsoft's Live@edu offerings as well.
So how do Google Apps for Education compare to Microsoft's Live@edu?
Both of these major software companies provide a very useful set of functions for education, for free. You can hardly go wrong by choosing one over the other. Deciding which of these might make sense for your institution requires a deeper dive into both, and then weighing pros and cons against criteria applicable to your operations. [I would probably be remiss if I didn't at least mention that there is also the larger question of whether to use these types of offerings at all, as discussed in this article from InsideHigherEd.com.]
Returning our focus to the question of which these tool sets is better than the other, I just don't think either is an undeniable winner over the other. If this is a decision you are looking to make, hopefully these two posts (this week's and last week's) have pointed you to some of the readily available informational materials that will help you make this decision. I will wrap this effort up on Wednesday with my midweek post, where I will layout some of the features of each app set side by side, and try to provide some additional information for weighing these free tools against each other.