The recent passing of Steve Jobs has spawned more than a few conversations about how many of the products born from his extraordinary imagination we can no longer do without. It made me start thinking about some of the technology-based things (websites, gadgets, shortcuts) that I can't imagine working without any more.
There was a time when the documents you created on one computer stayed on that computer until they were printed, or until you found a way to carry a digital document with you. Not always an easy feat. If you started creating a test, for example, on your computer at school, working on it at home meant saving to a flash drive, or emailing it to yourself so it could be opened on another computer. Forget to do one of those, and your students could be taking a 3 question test that you didn't have a chance to finish. Luckily, we now have better, more convenient options for saving work and accessing it on multiple machines.
The easiest option, I think, is to create your documents online at a site like Google Docs. You will need to sign up for a Google account (free and easy to do), but this will give you access to online applications similar to Microsoft Office applications. Yep, you can create word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings and, one of my favorites, forms. Whatever you create in Google Docs is stored in "the cloud" so that you instantly have access to all of your documents from any Internet-connected computer. In addition, you can invite other users to collaborate on documents with you. Team teachers can work as a team, each from the comfort of his or her own home.
One of the best and most underused features of Google Docs, I think, is the ability to create forms. Any time you need to collect information from a group (students, parents, colleagues), creating and posting a form online allows the members of your group to add their information to the form and submit. No papers to collect! And, best of all, the information that is submitted, instantly populates a spreadsheet, so you don't even need to spend time gathering and organizing the submissions. You could even create an online test or quiz using Google Forms, and have all of your students' responses in one place for you to grade. Intrigued? Here's something that might make it even more enticing: visit www.flubaroo.com, and download an add-on that will grade the test results for you, and generate summary reports on student performance, including which question(s) tripped up more than 60% of respondents. This is such an enormous time-saver, it's almost every teacher's dream come true, and certainly worth a look if you've never tried it before.
BTW: When you create your Google account, you not only get access to Google Docs and a Gmail address, you get the ability to create your own Google Calendars. I'm not sure exactly how I would get through a day without checking my Google Calendar to see what's on tap, but I know I don't want to try. This site allows you to create multiple calendars (ie. work, family, book club . . . ) and stay on top of all your activities. Your calendars are sharable, and allow you to create "To Do" lists that keep you from forgetting those little tasks that tend to slip your mind so easily. You can even import calendars, like national holidays, or the schedule of your favorite sports team, so you never miss a game. FYI: My White Sox open the 2012 season on April 6th in Texas. Thanks Google Calendar, for the heads up.