In March of 2012, UM Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses were in the midst of transitioning from legacy systems to the new Google mail and suite of cloud services known as M+Google.
At first, the transition was rocky. There were no dramatic changes in how the software itself compared to previous applications (on the Dearborn campus, Zimbra mail was used for email), but the way we did our work and prepared content for courses changed dramatically.
Adapting our workplace methods to use shared calendars, conversation-style email chains, and the Google mobile apps led to many conversations with colleagues about how to best adapt to these transitional technologies as they transformed our ways of communicating and working together. One of UM’s support strategies was to train Google guides, colleagues who took early training so as to help others adjust to using the new applications.
Working as a team with collaborative tools such as Google Calendar immediately reveals the variable and long-held individual working styles, habits, and vernacular that were formerly private only to that individual. Processes and standards would be needed for effective communication with these new digital tools. For example, my office manager at the time found my own habit of scheduling two events over the top or overlapping each other very vexing, and she let me know in no uncertain terms that it was not acceptable. She insisted that I could not possibly be in two places at the same time. I explained that the calendar was flexible, and the overlaps showed my desire to be adaptable in how I managed my time.
When my calendar was just for me, two appointments at the same time made sense because I visualized the calendar in a different way than my teammates. In the collaborative workplace, this personal habit of mine was confusing to my coworkers. Together we had to come to a compromise on how calendaring was to be done in our office to minimize both conflicts and mistakes due to poor communication.
It is these kinds of conversations that are held on an almost daily basis with teammates and coworkers when using collaborative tools. The skills required to work effectively as collaborators were developed on the fly as we adapted our workflows to the new technologies.
There are many instructional advantages of the new cloud-based tools now that we have surmounted the transitional phase. One enormous personal benefit of the Google cloud revolution is that I was able to finally ditch my lanyard necklace of thumb drives. Once the transition to cloud services in my personal workflow was complete, there was no need to carry around file storage devices of any kind.
Another big advantage is there is no longer a need to pass documents back and forth through email for distribution or editing. Each document can reside on the web similar to a mini-webpage with a wiki, available at all times to editors for review or changes.
Faculty can use collaborative tools to work with researchers and co-authors.
Students can use collaborative tools in class and gain valuable skills for their future careers.
The newest version of Google collaborative tools is now called “G Suite.” With G Suite students can submit papers online to Canvas using a link from Docs, create a survey with Forms, or plot data with Sheets. You can even create Forms with the voice activation feature now available for UM. There is no need to purchase and load software to create documents and assignments on the G Suite cloud. Try a handy browser plugin for Chrome that helps new users get to the G Suite cloud.
Minor changes can be made to these documents from a phone or tablet. The G Suite apps do not provide all of the same functions as the browser versions, but apps support enough functionality to get the job done when students are on a mobile device.
Check out the many support documents available for UM faculty, students and staff on the UM Google site.