Email has been available to the public since the 1980s and it meant just that, Electronic Mail. Send, reply, and delete was pretty much your options but slowly more and more features started to appear.
Gmail has it all, and while this post is limited to some ways it could be used in the classroom, it is well worth your time to discover all of the options provided to you. This post is also not a list of my "Gmail Ninja" tricks (e.g. how to keep your Inbox from overflowing) but I will happily do a post on it if someone requests it.
Without further ado, lets explore the power of Gmail for education:
Labels: This is Google's version of filing folders. We all have them, the places where the hundreds of papers we receive every day from our classes get filed. With Gmail Labels you can 1) never lose a paper again 2) cut down dramatically on paper usage. Gmail can save all of your student work to be retrieved an dealt with when you want to. I use this everyday and it allows me to never wonder where my student's work is because I can retrieve it from anywhere.
Step 1: Click on "Labels" and then "manage labels"
Step 2: Create the labels you want to use. I created one called Student Work and another called Old Student Work.
Step 3: Now have your students send you their assignments in an email.
When you receive that email it will enter your Inbox. To give it a new label click on the "move to" button and select the label you want to use.
That's it! Your student's work has been moved to the label and you can get to it whenever you want without cluttering up your Inbox or wasting trees. Once you are done with the email you can always Archive it or move it to another email.
I never delete any email I receive from a student or parent until they graduate in case there is a need to refer to it. Don't worry, Gmail gives you more than enough free storage space to do this.
Some other ideas for labels could be:
Parent Emails, Term Papers, Homework, Reports, etc.
Chat: Sometimes, email is not quick enough or powerful enough to get your point across. I have heard that 80% of what we say is through non-verbal communication, so you could imagine how frustrating or confusing it could be to just use email. Written and Voice chat come already installed in your Gmail account just click on a name (if you don't have any names listed, click the add contact button) and start typing to them. Or if you have a microphone you can begin talking back and forth as if you were on the phone.
The most significant use of Chat that I have found is through video chat. This does require a quick and free install and any $20 webcam. After going through those instructions, you can set up a video chat with your colleague, student, and anyone else that has a Gmail account. I have used this with Patrick Yurick, to create video conferencing with teachers on the opposite side of the country.
In an example from his classroom, he set it up so his Graphic Design students could create the music video for the band It's from the Sky. In order to receive feedback from the band members on the East Coast, these students in California presented their ideas via Gmail Video Chat. The final result was this amazing video.
Think about the possibilities, you could bring primary sources, authors, and experts from around the world into your classroom. I have seen Karl Fisch create amazing opportunties for his students to interact with experts through this type of medium (click here for an example). Coming back to the equity issue, we are no longer limited by our geographical location or ability to raise funds for travel, the world is just a click away and we can bring these to our students.
I hope that you have new ideas coming to mind as a result of these technologies. If you have any questions, tips, or ideas, please leave a comment below.