Is it responsible for schools to teach Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office?

posted Jan 2, 2012, 1:18 PM by Eric Curts   [ updated May 22, 2014, 5:25 PM ]
Back in 2010 our school district rolled out Google Apps for Education for our staff and students. Since then we have seen great usage of Google Docs for the creation of word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. However, along with that growth in usage, we have also received a common question: “Is it really a good idea for a school to encourage the use of Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office?”

We believe the answer is “yes” and this article will cover many of the reasons why. However, first let’s make sure everyone has a good understanding of just what Google Docs is. Google Docs is part of Google Apps for Education, which is a suite of online programs and services provided by Google to schools for free. Google Apps includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Sites, Google Docs, and more.

Google Docs is composed of several programs:
  • Google Documents - a word processing program (similar to Microsoft Word)
  • Google Presentations - a multimedia presentation program (similar to Microsoft PowerPoint)
  • Google Spreadsheets - a spreadsheet program (similar to Microsoft Excel)
  • Google Forms - a program for creating and delivering online forms, surveys, quizzes, and more
  • Google Drawings - a drawing and graphics program
Now for the reasons why Google Docs is a good choice for schools:

Google Docs is free.

Free is good. It is good for schools with tight budgets. It is good for parents trying to make ends meet. It is good for students as they go off to college and have more than enough costs to cover. Google has made a commitment to education and offers the entire Google Apps suite of services to schools for free, with no advertising, and with no strings attached.

When our school investigated both Google Apps and Microsoft’s option (Office 365), we discovered that to match the features offered in Google Apps (for free) we would have to pay Microsoft over $200,000 per year, every year.

Now free does not mean cheap or low quality, as the next reason addresses.

Google Docs is an excellent suite of powerful programs.

When our school district rolled out Google Apps, we did not settle for it because we could not afford anything else. We chose Google Apps for many reasons (explained in this article) including the fact that it provides an excellent suite of productivity tools. Google Docs is not a watered-down, light version of Office programs. It provides a full featured word processor, spreadsheet program, presentation tool, and more.

Depending on your needs, chances are that Google Docs has all the features you need to complete your tasks.  As a technology director and computer user in all areas of my life, I consider myself a “power user”, constantly using a computer to produce, edit, collaborate, and communicate. For the last two years I have been using Google Docs exclusively for all of my productivity needs including all my newsletters, help guides, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. The only task I still use Microsoft Office for is if I need to do a mail merge, although this is not as common of a task for students.

Google Docs is constantly adding new features.

And for those areas where Google Docs may lack some features, the good news is that they are always improving their programs. At least once every week or two, Google announces some new feature or tool or option that they have added to Google Docs. They listen to their users’ requests and work hard to roll out needed updates. In addition, since Google Docs is entirely online, as the new features get released, you automatically get them. There is no need for users to download and install updates, or pay for a new version.

Google Docs removes compatibility issues.

One of the great struggles for a school can be the large amount of different programs and versions of programs that students may use at home. It is possible for a student to write a document at home in a newer version of a program or a completely different program than what the school has on our computers. This can pose a challenge for the student who needs to open, edit, or share that document when at school.

With Google Docs, no matter where you are the program is the same. Since Google Docs is entirely web-based, students get the exact program at school and at home and at the public library and anywhere else they go. Speaking of which...

Google Docs allows for anytime, anywhere access.

Google Docs is a web-based program. That means nothing needs to be downloaded or installed on your computer to use it. It simply runs right in your web browser. As long as you have access to the Internet, you have access to Google Docs.

This means that students can access, edit, create, and share all their Google Docs from any computer whether at school or at home or the public library or on vacation at Grandma’s house. Even snow days are no longer an excuse for no doing school work! It does not matter if the computer is a Windows PC or a Mac or even a Linux computer. Beyond computers and laptops, Google Docs is even accessible on tablets and smart phones.

Being web-based also means that students no longer need to store files on flash drives or other media to transfer documents between school and home. Anything they work on in one location can be pulled up in another. I greatly appreciate this, having seen many students with broken flash drives, CD’s, and floppies over the year. (Of course students can still export their Google Docs to a flash drive if they want. See later in the article.)

Google Docs allows for collaboration and sharing.

Another benefit of being web-based is collaboration. Students and staff can share any of their Google Docs with other students or staff as needed. When shared, a file can be made read-only or can be edited by others. This makes it easy for students to do group projects and all work together on the same document or presentation, with no need to merge separate files together later.

Sharing also allows for students to turn in their school work digitally for their teachers to grades, removing the need to print out many documents, and saving paper and ink.

Microsoft Office can still be used in conjunction with Google Docs.

For many reasons, people may sometimes choose or need to use Microsoft Office for certain tasks. For example, at our high school our business classes still use Microsoft Office due to the specific tasks they need to do and the likelihood they will be using Office in their jobs. Even still, Google Docs works well with Microsoft Office and other productivity programs. Anything created in Google Docs can be exported into Microsoft format for you to open and edit in Office. Likewise, Office documents can be uploaded and converted into Google Docs if needed.

Many people, schools, and businesses already use Google Docs.

Although Microsoft Office is certainly the most widely used productivity suite, more and more people are using Google Docs all the time. At the time of this writing over 40 million users and 4 million businesses use Google Docs.

For a list of some companies and schools using Google Apps, see here:

And of course Google itself uses Google Apps to run its multi-billion dollar company.

It is more important to teach technology skills than specific programs.

A final thought to consider is just what needs to be taught when it comes to tech skills. Most productivity programs work about that same. For example, if you know how to create a numbered list in Microsoft Word, you will have no problem doing the same thing in Google Documents or Open Office or Zoho Office or most any word processing program. The same is true for most all productivity tasks. Google Docs is an excellent suite of programs for teaching these needed productivity skills that can be used with any program.

Moreover, programs are updated frequently, so if you learn Microsoft Word in a middle school computer class, by the time you graduate from high school Word will most likely have gone through two or more major upgrades and look quite different. It is not as important to know where the “numbered list” button is, but rather to understand what it does and when to use it.

Another good example would be the proper use of multimedia presentations. Through Google Presentations students can certainly learn all necessary basic skills concerning creating slides, entering text, adding pictures, applying animations, inserting transitions, and such, which can be used in most any presentation program. Although students need to learn how to make a presentation, more importantly they need to learn how to make one well. That is, how to communicate clearly, choose the proper text to share, keep the listeners’ attention, avoid distracting extras, and such. These are the skills students truly need to be effective users of technology now and in the future.

Conclusion

So in conclusion, Google Docs is a great choice for schools because it is a free, powerful suite of programs, that is constantly improving, and that allows for anytime, anywhere access and collaboration. It is a great tool to help us teach our students technology, but more importantly to teach them to use technology.

For more information about Google Apps, Google Docs, and how our school district is using these services, please see these resources: