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Free Web Tools vs. Purchasing Proprietary Software? A tool to help you decide.


Jacqui Murray, an indefatigable K-12 tech blogger, had an interesting Ask a Tech Teacher blog article on February 22, 2016, “8 Reasons for and 8 Against Revisiting Software in the Classroom
I have adapted this below for an adult basic skills context. I hope you will look at, critique, and suggest additions to it. With a little refinement, it could become an especially useful tool for adult basic skills practitioners who want to examine advantages and disadvantages of free vs. proprietary software. Of course, there is also the question of whether software should be cloud-based, and accessible from any Internet-accessible device, or located on a computer or Local Area Network at an adult education program, school or a public library. This is addressed in part by some of these advantages and disadvantages, and by some of the criteria I have included below that Jacqui suggests for evaluating software.

Advantages of Proprietary (commercial) software
In addition to these advantages Jacqui Murray has given for proprietary (commercial) software, which I have made some adjustments to,

  •  No ads
  • You get the entire program when you purchase software. With some online tools, however, you might get one or two levels of a few of the included games, or some of the lessons, with the expectation that you will purchase more levels, more games or more lessons
  • Often, there is no annual fee. Once you purchase software, you own it for as long as you want to use that version. The only reason you pay more is to upgrade to a newer offering.
  • Ability to work offline
  • Sometimes greater security
  • Sometimes more reliability
  • You know the full cost. Sometimes free samples of software lead to add-ons that end up being more expensive than similar proprietary software.

from an adult educator’s perspective I also see some additional possible advantages for proprietary software:

  • Often, but not always, proprietary software is better designed and with more features that teachers need such as a built-in learning progress management system
  • Sometimes proprietary software is more likely to be optimized for smartphones and electronic tablets
  • This is a variation on Jacqui’s “getting the entire program”. Often with proprietary software you get the whole curriculum. If you need a high school equivalency preparation program, for example, the online products are often complete.
  • With curricula changing so quickly to align with new CCRSAE standards, and standardized assessments, the commercial publishers have also had to change their products to better align with these new standards. While sometimes they are not truly re-designed, but just re-packaged, some are totally re-designed and well-aligned with the new standards. Others probably will be soon
  •  In some cases, school systems, libraries, or state education authorities that sponsor adult basic education for the state buy a license to a proprietary product that allows programs or individual learners to use good online proprietary software for free. (Of course, it may be that in some cases it’s not very good software, and worse, its use is mandated.)

Advantages of Free Web-based Software

In addition to advantages Jacqui has given for free web-based software, which I have made minor adjustments to below:

  • Can be accessed across all platforms, avoiding problems like Macs vs. PCs
  • Can be accessed from any computer because they’re online.  They don’t rely on programming that’s native to a particular computer
  • No worry about having enough space to install or run software — or save data. The size of your hard drive is irrelevant
  • Nothing to install. You set up an account, set up your preferences, and get started
  • No maintenance. It’s installed on a server that someone else maintains and updates
  • They reliably work. They don’t have to be updated with new drivers that make the program compatible with whatever changes were made to your computer. In short: You don’t have to be a geek to keep it running. You just have to remember your password
  • Data backups are seamlessly performed in the cloud. You never worry about losing your work or backing up your data
  • Some digital devices can’t run software. Neither iPads or Chromebooks allow downloads or installs to their systems so software just isn’t an option. Web tools are more universal

from an adult educator’s perspective, I also see these possible advantages to using free web-based software:

  • As most teachers and administrators put it, “free is good” generally meaning, “That’s what we can afford.”
  • There is no perfect proprietary curriculum for all one’s students. Even excellent curricula are made better by the capacity for teachers to add in their own resources and lessons that better suit their particular students. This means that sometimes an integrated mix of proprietary and free curricula and instruction is the ideal instructional solution.

Jacqui offers a table in her blog article comparing proprietary software and what she calls Online Tools, i.e. free online software. She evaluates these with some useful criteria, to which I have added some explanation:

  • Access -- the computer or LAN where it was installed vs. on the Internet
  • Compatibility across various computer platforms and portable digital devices
  • Control -- your control vs. someone else’s
  • Cost
  • Daily Use  -- at any particular time being able to use it may depend on either or both: whether your computer(s) work(s) and/or whether your Internet connection works
  • Limitation -- what kinds of devices it can run on
  • Maintenance -- who is responsible for fixing it when it breaks
  • Security -- your computer security and/or the website’s security
  • Set-up  -- whether or not and what kind of installation is required
  • Speed
  • Updates  -- who is responsible for these
  • Where it lives  -- on your computer or on the Internet
  • Working with a partner  -- using it, how easy or difficult it is to learn or work collaboratively
  1. What features – advantages and disadvantages of either proprietary or free, online or on-computer software would you add to this?
  2. What questions do you have about Jacqui’s analysis – or mine?
  3. How would you use this software evaluation tool,  now,  or once it is refined?

David J. Rosen


rwessel51's picture
One hundred

The question isn't which is better software, proprietary or free, installed or browser based. The question is, based on my environment, which tool or combination of tools will help me best accomplish what I need to do? When making technology choices, there are always tradeoffs and risks. As with many other things in life, you first need a good understanding of your situation before you make your choices. Once you have this understanding, a tool comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the various options can be helpful in making a decision, but it can't replace neither a thorough understanding nor experience with using technology.

I think the list is good. A couple of things I might add are that with installed software, you always have to worry about an operating system update or incompatabilities with another piece of installed software "breaking" it. With browser-based software, there is the worry of a browser update doing the same.

David J. Rosen's picture
One hundred


Of course you are right. Just as you wouldn't go into a hardware store and ask for advice about buying a new tool when you had no idea how you wanted to use it, the first step should be figuring out what you want or need to do, or to have your students do.  That is easily said, and sometimes easily done, as in "I want every student to have a full-featured word processing program that is also easy to use." If that's your purpose then you can look at free vs. proprietary software.

I am interested, however, in what you -- and others here -- do to formulate or define more difficult -- more complex and less concretely defined problems. What do you do when you have some idea of what you want to do, but don't really know what kinds of software or hardware tools might be available, or even if any tools are available. For example, a couple of years ago, when electronic tablets were first being used in the classroom by adult education teachers, someone asked me how she could efficiently wipe the tablets clean of what students in one class had done, before she used the same set of tablets with the next class. (She was doing that manually and it took too much time, so the tablets weren't ready for the next class.) I wasn't sure that there was computer-based software that could do that for her. I also wondered if having classroom tablets was the best solution to access the web in the classroom -- if Chromebooks, or inexpensive laptops, or a combination of BYO web-accessible devices, computers and laptops would have been a better solution. 

My question is, what kind of thinking process do you (does anyone here) go through in formulating your education purpose before thinking about which software or hardware you need?

Thanks greatly, Robert, for raising this -- perhaps one of the most important questions for people who work in the world of teaching, learning and technology. 

David J. Rosen

Edward Latham's picture
One hundred

For many of us, we tend to stick to things we know or feel comfortable with. I am often approached by teachers with "What could I use to do ...?" type questions and often there are many praises for the options that are shared. I feel that fear is probably the biggest obstacle people face in terms of thinking through possible options. It takes a certain mindset that trusts that we can find some awesome means when we discuss options with others.

I must disclose that I am working in a mostly individualized program in which I may have a number of students working with me during any given time, but each individual has projects, activities and goals that are quite different from the others in the room. There are still many opportunities in which we all come together to share some learning that is a common need or common experience, but most of the day to day focus is on each individuals goals, projects and learning options.

I very often pull students into this process of which set of tools might combine to have the best effect. After all, they are ultimately going to be the consumer of any choice we make, so I try to include them in the discussion as much as possible. They often surprise me with suggestions I never would have thought of. This offers so many positives to learners and helps me expand my tool box of future options. Additionally, if the student and I can't come up with ideas, we extend our problem to the class and if that still does not come up with options, we hit up Google or other Internet searches to see what is available. In a few rare cases, we don't come up with options we feel comfortable with so the student and I end with a summary of what we found and what is missing. The next time we meet, after we both have had some time to mull things over we have always had more suggestions that ultimately led to some things to try. Notice that through out all this process, it was NOT necessary to know about this tool or that tool. It was a process of observation, reflection, evaluation and adjustment until we found options that made both the student and I comfortable. It is very much like the process of solving a jigsaw puzzle. There are many ways to approach finding and checking if pieces fit together. Having more ways to approach a problem often keeps things fresh and ensures better chances of success. 

When I first started playing with this process, it would take me some time and I admit I probably put in much more hours at home looking for ideas. After a number of semesters of doing this with students and extending my discussions to peers around the country in forums, I find it much easier to come up with possible combinations because my thinking has shifted over this time from "I must have an answer or solution that I know has a good chance to work" to "Here are a number of ideas I want to share with the student to see which ones might fit best and if that does not work then we might start looking over here or there to find another option...". When one needs a word processor for instance, I may have some go to options I personally like, but I ALWAYS offer the student a number of options so the individual can pick which one they wish. To be fair I probably lead the discussion a bit towards my bias, but I get students all the time making choices I would never make, but I still support their learning with that choice and this has helped me gain so many perspectives on so many options.

This has been a difficult switch in thinking for me and has taken time and many many discussions with students and peers. I no long feel the fear of "What if I can't find or figure out a tool this kid can use ..." and I firmly feel that every learner I get to work with provides me another opportunity to explore options, even with familiar tools. Shifting from fear limitations to the excitement of exploration is accelerated by sharing with peers the ideas and "What if's..." we come up with.  It is so helpful to have a peer to discuss options with and I open myself up to anyone that wishes to email and share option ideas at any time. We are our best resources and sadly I feel we underutilized the strength we have in peer discussion and collaboration. So many of us still are going it alone and trying to survive. We fear the judgement of others if we even ask a question. That is sad and I offer a professional group hug for all those out there still feeling those real fear restraints.  It is much easier to relax and have fun when we have others sharing the journey and excitement of exploration with us.

I am not sure if this clearly articulates my process as it feels so "normal" to me now. Please offer questions or thoughts if some of the above does not make sense. 

David J. Rosen's picture
One hundred

Ed and others,

Ed, you wrote, I think about the teachers who approach you for help,  "I feel that fear is probably the biggest obstacle people face in terms of thinking through possible options. It takes a certain mindset that trusts that we can find some awesome means when we discuss options with others."

What are some of the fears you -- and others have seen? Fear of looking foolish? Fear that the technology upon which a lesson is dependent might fail -- and then not knowing how to fix the problem, or what to do as a back-up? Fear of not knowing as much as the students do?

How do you help others (teachers and students) build a confident mindset that they can find good technology solutions?

David J. Rosen

Edward Latham's picture
One hundred

The discussion below applies to both teachers and learners and as such you may read I use each group intermixed at different times.

Teachers are often under many pressures. In many ways, teachers need to constantly be justifying things very often. They justify choices to students, parents, peers, administrators and sometimes to the public. Our profession is not seen as being occupied by trained professionals at times. These many pressures have teachers often feeling the need to justify all the time and defend themselves. In essence, many teachers fear rejection or judgement. This is quite evident when you witness teachers immediately offering, "I really stink at technology, so good luck teaching me this..." as they come into a training session. This self deprecation attempts to prevent the judgement of others and may offer a false sense of security for some. This fear of judgement extends to related fears including, looking foolish, not having all the answers, not knowing what option to try if the first does not work, not knowing how to help a struggling student, not maintaining control, not keeping up and many other related fears of being judged. 

I have found that the number one way to defeat fears is success. I see this when teaching struggling math learners, technology learners, language learners and any other learners I have had the pleasure to work with. It is vital, to get some minor successes into their experiences as soon as possible. With this in mind, training has to have teachers engaged in activities as soon as possible. A nice safe way to do this is to get teachers reflecting on successes and then sharing with a partner. This Think, Pair, Share strategy offers time for personal reflection before sharing with only one peer then a few pairs share with the group what was shared. Everyone gets their voices heard and their experiences validated by a listening audience. 

Once you have fearful ones experiencing a few successes, the next stage is to start introducing situations in which there is no one right answer and in fact may be an infinite number of great solutions. After feeling validated with the early successes, this exposure to many creatively different "right" answers begins to offer food for thought that no one of us holds all the keys to knowledge and our personal experiences are often much more limited compared to the experiences of any room of people combined. As many math teachers may share, there are often many ways to approach a given problem and each approach can be right. It is the discussion of why each one is right that leads to much learning that spreads confidence that divergent thinking is not always wrong. 

With some success starting the momentum, exposure to thoughts that one right answer is often a limit on the learning process it is then time to introduce how important many ways of expressing learning is. I think many teachers can spout out information on multiple intelligence, but ask teachers how to kinesthetic demonstrate division of fractions and there are many blank stares. Sadly, this stage of fear removal is often quite challenging as the testing fetish that has gripped our country takes so much of the spotlight that is is often very hard to find those few golden nuggets that can serve as guides or options we can all try. In Mathematics, contextual application of mathematics concepts can be particularly difficult as most resources out there offer very weak application that is often out of touch with our individual learners or teachers daily lives. As I have posted in a few of my other thread posts, I am finding success in really focusing on the individual and bringing the individual into how application looks. Because the learner has gained confidence early on and many activities have promoted open ended thinking, learners at this stage are often very capable of coming up with wondrous solutions. They just need a teacher/guide to help ask some questions and offer a few skeletal ideas. The learner will often fill in many blanks IF fears have been eroded well in the first two phases (success and open ended solutions). 

Although this is by no means a "one size fits all" solution set to get rid of fears, I personally am finding much success with the learners and even just friends that are so filled with fear today. You start seeing smile, relaxed postures, and many small comments like "Should we be having this much fun with this?" Best of all, when you see those once fearful learners get to the point where they approach a new fearful learner and offer to help the new learner, you know you have found success. I see it with 70+ year old grandmas that spend the first two weeks working with me trying to convince me they "...will never get this technology thing" only to see them teaching a peer shortcuts, tips and tricks they have mastered by the end of our time together. This is of course not hard data that would stand up to a critical evaluation, but for what I aim for when working with people, it is all the proof I need that this process is beneficial for others. 

Please note that in all of the above, time is not mentioned in the equation at all. This is a vital point. Every single one of us develops and learns at different rates. It is very important to respect that when combating fears as described above. There is much focus on time today and in adult education, so much anxiety from learners, teachers, administrators focus on time constraints. In my experience, limited to only a handful of hundreds of learners, once learners start feeling successful, time is often removed from the anxiety pool. Reality sets in quickly that one can't really go from 4th grade level math to entering college with confidence in the next 15 weeks. I share concern with learners, "I am glad you are really demonstrating your understanding, but aren't you concerned about not getting done this semester?" With so many students, the responses are similar in sharing that the increase in confidence and reduction of fear become more of the focus than the often artificial time constraints they came in with. 

I hope this clarifies a bit and offers some thoughts. Would love to hear the thoughts of others :)

rwessel51's picture
One hundred


To answer your question, “what kind of thinking process do you (does anyone here) go through in formulating your education purpose before thinking about which software or hardware you need?,” I generally follow a simultaneous or recursive process instead of a sequential one of first defining the problem and then looking for the solution. Whenever I come across a tool I think may have potential, I download a free or trial version and play with it. If it is promising, I then search for similar products to see what capabilities are available in that line. On tools I use regularly, I explore the tool bar and read the manual to see which features I can repurpose. As far as hardware is concerned, I can usually find an inexpensive one that is representative of the technology that I can play with. This familiarity then helps define and refine and educational (or any other) purpose or problem when it arises.

As far as problems such as wiping classroom tablets clean after each use, or deciding whether they are really the most appropriate solution, a little time doing Google searches almost always gives me either the answer or the insights I need to answer it on my own. I’ve discovered that I am never the first to have a particular technological problem and at least one person has been good enough to post their solution on the Internet. I am basically using the skills I developed when my teachers assigned me research papers all those years ago.

David J. Rosen's picture
One hundred

Technology and Learning, and Program Management Colleagues,

One of the biggest decisions schools and education programs that offer blended learning (integrated face-to-face and online learning) make is: which Online Learning Platform (OLP) to use. An OLP sometimes refers to a broad online learning system (LMS) and sometimes to a Learning Course Management System (LCMS) . See for the distinction.) is "a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of electronic educational technology (also called e-learning) courses or training programs".[1]   But enough of definitions. My purpose is to open a discussion about Online Learning Platform choices that may be suitable for adult education programs and schools.

Below is a partial list of free and proprietary OLPs. What would you add to the list? What do you use now? How do you like it? Why?

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Technology and Learning, and Program Management CoPs


Edward Latham's picture
One hundred

As any who know me might guess, I am a strong supporter of the Google suite of tools. Simply put there are more powerful options within that suite of tools than in any other. Even when compared to a collection of tools, the integration between tools and services within Google is unparalleled. It would take me pages to type out all the positive reasons I believe it is the most powerful, efficient, and effective option (paid or free) available to educators.

If I had to use one of the other systems, I think Schoology would be my second go to. I like the flexibility of options in their tools and how much cleaner the interface is compared to many of the other offerings. 

Paul Rogers's picture
One hundred

David, just a quick question: what specifically does each platform do? For example, how would a GED teacher, an ESL teacher, an English literacy teacher, etc., use any of these - or, how would they determine which one to use?

I have developed my own Blended / Distance learning program (Nonformal)  and would be interested to know which of those listed would be more appropriate for me to investigate and possibly  use. 



Edward Latham's picture
One hundred

Hi Paul and others. I am a passionate supporter of the Google options and wish to highlight why teachers might wish to explore this platform more. I am in no way employed by Google (I wish) and the following thoughts are all from my personal experiences. I have used many of the other systems David shared and feel that although each has some merits, nothing matches the power, flexibility in options and potential to create powerful learning environments like the Google system of tools offers. Of course being free does not hurt at all!

Thoughts for any teacher: (for any specific course like ESL, I have tons of suggestions but I am sure this post will already be too long for some.. perhaps other thread may help on specifics?)

First of all, one free log in (a gmail account for instance) gets you into over 50 tools that are all integrated with each other. 

  1. Word processing, spreadsheets and presentations are all cloud based and offer an ability to share and collaborate unparalleled with other tools available. No more saving files or loosing files or tracking which version of files people have. Incredible innovation in how people work together online.
  2. Google Drive is an online cloud storage that gives up to 17 Gig (15 normal with an extra 2 if you set up free powerful security on your account) of storage for free and will hold any type of file. Just drag and drop your files into your google drive and poof, those files are now on the cloud ready for access or sharing. Best of all if you want to share that file with others, you simply get a link to drop in their email and they can then access the file without any huge email attachments or other fusses.
  3. Webpage creation for student portfolios and classroom websites are as easy as using a word processor and the sites integrate with all the other google tools to create highly interactive experiences with very low tech geekery. For those tech geeks out there, you can even have online quizzes that correct themselves, collate data and post graphs of aggregate class results on your webpage all done instantly as students hit submit on their surveys. Incredible interaction available here!
  4. Calendars are integrated to task lists and to email and sms services to help with goal setting, tracking events, scheduling collaboration time and generally helping learners organize their responsibilities. 
  5. Instantly chat with other users within documents, within email, and within a hangout (think digital communal lounge). All of these chatting features allow for quick creation and recording of group chats which are all archived automatically. 
  6. From any chat, one can quickly create a hangout which integrates audio, video, interactive screens, screen sharing and many other video conferencing features. This service supports up to dozens of participants. You can plan a hangout and invite people to it like a live performance to keep the classroom activities flowing outside "normal" classroom experiences. Q&A sessions, group sharing of progress, and brainstorming sessions done on Hangout are great ways for learners to connect with others from home if they have access. I still think that having a Weekly or Monthly LINCS hangout must be done in the next year :)
  7. G+ is a social media tool that is often an unknown treasure. Think of Facebook on steroids. The users can create circles of contacts and any one "friend" can be in multiple circles. When you post, email, create hangouts or do anything in Google you can simply type in the name of a circle and the materials are shared with only those circles you specify. Even more powerful is your ability to tailor your newsfeed to only be populated by communities (think interests groups or online communities) you choose. Tools like Facebook largely dictate what you see on your newsfeed. The power in G+ to tailor what you see has many applications in the classroom and extending the classroom. As with all google tools, G+ allows you to quickly and easily plop in work from other tools in the system with very little effort.
  8. Youtube is owned by Google and your gmail account links you automatically to youtube services allowing students and teachers to quickly and easily post videos and integrate those videos in many of the other Google services. This is great to make your own learning channels for learners to access or to have learners make their own video portfolios they can easily share with potential employers. 
  9. Google Forms allows you to create so many interactive learning experiences. One of the most popular is the ability to make online assessments that automatically correct questions (knowledge and application level questions primarily) and the results can be automatically sent to learner's emails or aggregated and posted in class summary graphs online on the class site. An additional use of forms is collect essay type responses and quickly compare and contrast as a group the responses in a discussion (names are not included in the displays in this case). These discussions help many learners identify misconceptions, respect multiple points of view, and learners naturally compare their writing quality to others in an informal way that can increase desire to improve their literacy skills. 
  10. Voice to text is built into Google Documents (the online wordprocessor) and is planned to be integrated into many of their other tools in the near future. This important feature opens doorways to those that struggle with typing or writing. There are also many plugins that integrate within the Chrome Browser (google's browser) that will read any text in a google service to the learner helping with low ability readers. 
  11. With most systems, learners will have difficulty bringing their work with them to college or in other areas of life after completion of their studies in our programs. If the learners all start with their own google account, all of their work stays with them on any device anywhere they go in life that allows them to connect to an internet connection. This access level to work inspires many learners to create positive digital means of expression within the suite of tools. These artifacts move with them through life with NO transferring of data or accounts or any of the other steps necessary in most other systems. 
  12. Capturing photos, organizing them and sharing or using those photos (or movies) is seamless and on Android devices, automatic. No more clunky uploading processes or having to download and find some picture to put it in a post. After I take a picture on my phone, that picture is up in my Google photo cloud ready for use in just a minute without me hitting any buttons. Better still, from any google service, I can insert my photos from my library with only two clicks! So much easier than ANY other hardware and software systems I work with. 
  13. Integration with Google Maps, Customizable map services, and Google Earth open up a world of studies for learners. The combination of these tools allow learners to dive into street level explorations of so many places around the world (and even on the moon)! With their google account they can add local images, videos, and text to create their own maps or offer those same resources to the online community. This opens up so many explorations of what is in our community, neighboring communities and regions all over the world! As will everything else in the Google umbrella, these custom made maps and experience are easily integrated into your site, document, video and whatever other google tool you use.
  14. Teachers can create their very own custom searches. The flexibility is vast, but some ideas include only having students be able to search a given set of resources, only using resources published from a particular time (great for history!), only items from a region (comparing news from different countries is eye opening), and can easily be set up for lit studies or other project that are facilitated by really focusing on what content learners might benefit from most. 
  15. All bookmarks you make in Chrome can be linked to your gmail account so that you will always have all your bookmarks with you on any device that allows you to log in. No more "Oh, darn, that link is on my other computer or device!"
  16. Blogger is Google's online blogging tool and integrates so nicely into sites and docs. Blogger supports rss readers so teachers can automatically get updated when new information is added to a learner's blog. Additionally, a class blog of activities can be easily subscribed to by learners to keep up to date with resources, reminders, encouragement, happenings and many other motivational contributions a blog can provide. 
  17. Speaking of news, Google News allows you to filter your news from any online set of sources including local, national, and international. If there is a news service that has digital content, you can add it to your Google News reader filter and you will get updates as items are posted in any of your goto news sources you choose from around the world and right down the street.
  18. Google Translate is quite effective in facilitating rudimentary communication with people of other cultures. I have been chatting weekly with someone from northern Africa that types only in French. Using Google translate, he and I have been communicating and learning about each other's language and culture for over a year now. Sure it is not going to replace learning the language, but it sure can help get the gist across often with a huge number of languages available. 
  19. Combining Google sheets (think excel) with Google Finance opens a world of mathematical and financial literacy explorations! Data is updated instantly as real world prices change. When combined with creative spreadsheet design, incredible learning opportunities can be created. 
  20. Google Books creates a personalized library of free online books and periodicals as well as any purchased books. This library extends to all your devices.

This is my short list of why the Google system blows all other systems out of the water in terms of what teachers and learners can do. Factoring in the cost (free) and I feel many people would find interest in learning more about these 20 features and how each one can be used in so many creative ways. Just item number 1 (Cloud based applications) offers a myriad of transformative learning experiences! Being able to combine each of those tools in so many ways just is mind mindbogglingly powerful! Again, the other systems are fine and have merits, but none of them come close to the power and options within the Google suite of options. Opinions may vary, but at least everyone knows where my flag is planted laugh


Kathy_Tracey's picture
One hundred

Good morning, 

I believe that you are accurate on the many benefits of Google, but I hesitate with the concept that anything is really free. While there is no cost to the use of Google features, there is a cost in the professional development that brings teachers into the technology driven world. More than anything, integration of technology needs to match the overall curricular needs of the student. Teachers need to find ways to make this integration seemless for their learners and often, teachers struggle with the abundance of resources and how to blend them with their instructional goals. 

It takes time for teachers to begin blending their traditional instruction with key technology components, and that time is never free. 


David J. Rosen's picture
One hundred

Kathy and Ed,

Thanks Ed for this very helpful list of Google tools/features. Kathy, I agree that often teachers don't have much time to learn and use technology. To help them, what we also need -- Kathy, Ed, and others -- is a document (perhaps a Google Doc) that begins with clear statements of what adult education teachers need/want to do, that lists what tools are available to help them do that,  and then possibly includes how to use each tool to do that, especially if there is already a good video that explains that. Once we have a good list of what teachers need/want to do, we could start with Google tools.

For examples of needs, I have heard teachers express the ones I have listed below, in no particular order or priority. Online tools and resources such as Google tools, and other online tools and resources. could perhaps help them to meet these and other needs.

  • Reminding students (by email and/or text message) of new assignments, assignments that are due, special events hosted by the class, program or other organizations, and more
  • Creating (or finding and adapting) lessons and resources, uploading them and organizing them in ways that students can find them
  • Helping students to create their own online portfolios (e.g. with writing assignments, micro-credentials/badges for demonstrated competencies; slide presentations, audio files or videos of demonstrations of completed projects and attained competencies
  • Building an online presence for storing lessons, useful links, virtual tours, and more

What other needs do teachers and administrators have that technology could help solve?

David J. Rosen

Moderator, Technology and Learning CoP



Edward Latham's picture
One hundred

Kathy, thank you for voicing this very real concern! I would never imply that all those features I shared of google would be presented in one sitting or even in one year. The reality is that we all need time to play with things and see how they work before we can even begin to discover how something might help a learner in some way. Of course, we may trust that others have taken time to come up with some suggestions, but we all know that our learners are all so different in many ways and suggestions may only work for some. Getting time is only one component however, we need to feel supported in our exploration time! Having that experienced mentor to check in on us, answer questions when we hit frustrations, offer us reminders or tips and generally keeping the energy of discovery alive and positive is so beneficial in the learning process. I find it amazing that mentorship is used is so many professional fields and yet our profession often has no mentorships or even strong collaboration groups we can turn to for ongoing supports. I find this sad and frustrating. 

I economically am in the poor strata and yet I feel that in terms of time to explore, play, fail, and dive into technologies I am one of the richest people I know. Having time to invest in exploration of any kind is so valuable and is an important variable when we think about how we can best support teachers wanting to start exploring any tool, free or fee based. Sadly, we can't make more time in life so in many ways the whole fee vs free discussions do fall off in priorities. 

Perhaps this statement might be more accurate..."Google's suite of tools are economically free and offer more power and options to education than any other set of tools." Of course this still implies that some time is created for teachers to be able to explore, play and really learn. I hint at the idea in a few other posts that our profession may benefit from a regular digital show that helps sequence this learning and exploration process. Sequenced videos with online supports, challenges, suggestions and hints could be great. Add in regular live Q&A at different times and the digital medium could have huge impact! This would offer frequent and sustained energy as well as support for explorations in a way that entire staffs don't have to be assembled for a given date and time only to have individuals left to fend for themselves after getting turned on to an idea. If there was some way to have a team get paid to produce this, I feel the entire field could benefit a great deal from such a service! 

What do you think, Kathy or anyone else? How do we deal with that constant challenge of "time to process and explore just one component at a time"?


Paul Rogers's picture
One hundred

Ed and members of the group, what would help would be a short “How To…” description, focusing on people who are not tech savvy, like me.

For example, let’s set up a mock design for a make-believe non-profit agency that provides classes in a variety of courses with people from diverse communities such as the Pilipino, Indian (the country), Native American, and Latino communities.

Let’s call the agency The Neighborhood Community Adult Education Center (NCAEC).

And – the agency just got a grant for 2 million dollars to upgrade its courses to include a computer lab with 50 computers, etc., etc.

And they want us, the experts, to go visit them to help them get going. They understand that it takes time to develop a full-blown system, but they need to start in one month with some basics.

We would have to recommend X, Y and Z and also train people who know little about technology.

So – let’s walk through everything, trying to prioritize things as best as we can.

I am a good example – I use Facebook a lot and might not be interested in what G+ does, but I would be interested in developing a file system for the lessons I put on Facebook.

Anyway, I think if we can concretize the issues a little better, we can have better analysis.




Edward Latham's picture
One hundred

I love the idea of having a concrete sequence or at least a suggestion of how one might get their feet wet in a big pool. Like swimming, some will slowly walk into the shallow end letting body parts adjust, some will just jump into the deep end and hope the shock doesn't kill them :)

When I teach any google parts, the idea is to start with what the teacher wants to accomplish much like the list David suggests in a post above. PD is often not able to do that well and instead offers a suggested flow. That flow may work well for some and not at all for others. With that in mind, here is a possible flow I would suggest to get people having fun and productive within google: NOTE: People need time to play, manipulate, prod and fuss with each of the items listed below and I think it would be a horrible dis service to try to ram all of this into a short time frame. An ideal would be each topic taking at least 4 hours, but of course our real word often does not have that time. This is why I feel we need a LINCS group digital series that includes asynchronous videos, challenges and assignments as well as synchronous Q&A and demonstrations on a regular basis. Sorry... that is for another thread :)


The gmail account opens the gates to all options and is one communication tool that includes many options. Getting accounts (especially with many people in one audience hall) can be a challenge simply because people often put little thought into the information they put in because of the excitement of getting going. Getting a good user name and a password that can be remembered are vital and I have many strategies I share that help people make these choices well. 

With gmail set up, we ensure people can send and receive emails to each other and how we can add others into group emails and the difference between reply and reply all. Sometimes, email is not immediate enough for our learners, so I then introduce how gmail has built in chatting functions that can be used with individuals and groups. The chat is all recorded so I show how that is archived just like the email threads are. No matter if gmail or chatting is used, full records and archives are kept. I like to introduce how teachers can send sms text to their learners and have the learners reply all in the teacher's email threads safely archived. This is a big eye opener for many instructors and I get much positive feedback from those in the field playing with this option. By this stage we have basic communications set up and there are many options to dig deeper or extend in one of two directions ... move the communications into collaborative documents or move to face to face digital options with hangouts. 

Hangouts: From right in a chat window, or from email someone can start up a google hangout which offers video and voice communication. This is powerful when someone can't make it in but wants some help. I have had students in singular situations where transportation failed but the student was still able to participate in the class through hangouts. Students can work together outside of class even if they are not together. Of course this depends on internet access at home and technology access. All of the google options work through phones as well as with tablets, laptops and desktops. I then share how a teacher might set a hangout event in which people can sign up for a live event. This is great for math review sessions before an exam or for Q&A after studying a unit. 

Documents: Having teachers get into documents is often quick and easy if they have used word processors before. It often takes much more work for them to get used to there is no saving files (it is automatically done) and no "sending" files back and forth. We explore the sharing options and the child like joy of having multiple people all typing in the same document is always a blast. It gets even better when I offer the group a difficult task and they start partitioning it out and get tons of work done in just 5 minutes if they are coordinated correctly. Of course I may wait till they have 5 minutes of floundering and inefficiency first to demonstrate the difference of guiding students into organized collaboration vs free range chaos in a document laugh I then will introduce the voice to text option which causes much excitement. If the group is up to it, introducing Chrome plug ins that allow for text to voice is a great next step, but that will depend on the confidence level in a group at this point. It can always be brought back in later after more successes have been experienced.

At this point, communication options of gmail, chatting, hangouts, and documents are on the table and I like to give scenarios of learner situations to have teachers discuss options within the communication tools that might work best and we share. Tons of great discussions here and people start seeing that there are so many permutations that can work in given situations! It is important at this stage in the process to have weeks or months of play time with these systems. I consider it vital to have weekly checkins, reminders, tips, examples and challenges to keep at least some focus with all the many other normal responsibilities we teachers have. 

If/when we get back for more, there are often questions or desires that are shared. I try to tailor the following topics to meet those requests and desires and sequence things appropriate to each body of educators as needed. 

Google Photos is a great "next step" as manipulation of images can be quite daunting for many. As part of this exploration, I bring people back to the email, chat, hangouts and documents so we can review and incorporate how images from Photos are added in so easily once people have experienced success with the process. Managing and sharing photos with ease seems to be a powerful tool for teachers in the feedback I get. 

Google Slides is often a very easy transition at this point and teachers may wonder why I wait so long before jumping into Slides. Although Slides are a way of communication, I feel that most utilization of Slide show programs is a one sided monologue and as such does not fit the theme of getting teachers and students talking together with the technology. As you can read above, that focus of getting communication going is very important to me. Slides offer a great way to present some visual stimulation during a lecture (if it is done right), and the tools can offer a means of students sharing with others what has been learned. Again, the sharing and different ways these presentations can be packaged are powerful and shocking for people to see. 

Google sites is a funny topic. So many are of the opinion that webpages are the domain of techno geeks that wield vile keyboard in different languages and involve programming in some mathematical secrete code. The reality is that if one can type in a word processor, one can make a google site or at least a basic one that can serve basic classroom functions. Likewise, students can use sites to display their learning in many ways. Participants marvel at how easy it is to plug in documents, presentations and so many other website items in Google sites. It makes the non-geeks stand proud as they show off their very own website that was put together in almost no time.

 By this time, some of the other Google options can be put on the table for the whole group to focus on or maybe sub groups may want different choices. If we had to get a staff up and running asap with the tools the topics listed would establish a positive communication system in and out of the education community. As a short list it looks like:

  1. Gmail: including email, chatting, hangout
  2. Docs: including sharing, collaboration and exporting to share with non Google users 
  3. Photos because managing images in all communication tools is important
  4. Slides for dishing out or experiencing what is learned
  5. Sites to hold the learning options or for students to display what was learned

Those are the big five in roughly the order I would suggest. Of course the other features have tons of power and usefulness, but the 5 above are the low hanging fruit that get people up and running and experiencing success with students first. 

Does that help clarify at all? If not please share other thoughts or questions. 

Gosh it would be cool to have a live internet show with supporting materials available for teachers online, wouldn't it?

David J. Rosen's picture
One hundred

Hi Paul, and others,

Perhaps we'll have an answer to your question if participants in the Technology and Learning Tools and Resources Micro-group review some of these platforms. I don't know of reviews of any of these that have been done by adult educators. Does anyone else?

David J. Rosen