As I was working on finalizing course materials today, I was faced with a dilemma. Do I use the tools the university provides, or do I use the Google tools (docs, sites, calendar, etc.) I'm already so familiar with? Well, I checked their tools out, and for now I think I will use the tools I already know. It's not that I have anything against the proprietary tools my school provides, and, despite what my students may say, I am not a Google fanboi. I have actually come to like Blackboard quite a bit, especially compared to the course-management software I was using before. My current school offers quite a nice suite of tools and provides training, so I will definitely keep learning them and find ways to use them in my classes. But when deciding what tools to use this semester, I kept coming back to two main criteria: ease of use and portability. The ease of use issue is a no-brainer if you have ever spent any time using Google Docs or Sites. Once you learn the interface, they are easy and FAST!
Then there's the issue of portability. Have you ever uploaded a document to Blackboard, then decided you wanted to make a change? What if you did this, say, 4 times? After you have changed the original, you have to go into Blackboard and delete the old file (and any metadata you may have added to the item) and replace it with the new one (and re-type the metadata ... unless you thought ahead to copy and paste into a Word doc). This gets pretty old. Now, imagine the same scenario with Google Docs. You make the change and save it. Since you have already added the item to Blackboard as an external link, the changes will show up there automatically. No deleting, re-typing and uploading current versions.
My former institution (wahoo wa) made the leap to Google Apps, and the students took to it like crazy. They were already using these tools, so the switch required basically no reconditioning on their part. It made my job a lot easier teaching ed. tech. classes because they didn't have to open a Google Account to access all of the tools we used throughout the semester. So, I look forward to introducing this next batch of preservice teachers to open source and free tools, while learning how to use a whole bunch of new tools myself . This should be pretty fun.