If you have a Google account–and you should, since you were asked to create one during Week 1 of this class!–you have access to Google Docs, which essentially is a free, completely online version of Microsoft Office: word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and even more: http://docs.google.com
I use Google Docs as my tertiary file back-up, after my computer hard drives (primary) and jump drives (secondary). I simply upload something to my Google Docs area, check the privacy settings to make sure no one else can see something sensitive, and rest a little better knowing that if my hardware ever crashes (and I have had my work computer die within a week of BOTH of my jump drives, destroying most of my first two levels of back-ups), I still have files saved somewhere.
I also use Google Docs on the job, especially its handy forms function. I can create surveys, basically anything with a fill-in-the-blank, click-a-button, or drop-down menu, and send them out. The recipient just sees a pretty questionnaire, but behind the scenes, the data from every form that’s completed goes into a spreadsheet that I can export to Excel for number-crunching. I’ve used Google Docs forms to quickly grade around 100 essays and then have averages and useful information within minutes.
Here’s an example of a form I made for an elementary ELAR class project where students would interview at least three people about their childhood reading habits. Rather than make a paper handout–resources are increasingly scarce–that could be lost and may well get crumpled, I let students and their parents know where to access the form and then have the whole class’s responses recorded electronically in a spreadsheet. Forms could be used for at-home science experiments, reading responses, math practice, etc.
For students who don’t have lots of software at home, Google Docs also offers a handy, PowerPoint-y presentation option. Below is one that I created in about 2 minutes; Google Docs allows me to then embed an automatically advancing slideshow into my blog, wiki, or other site.
It’s free. It’s convenient. If you’re only using Google Docs to store files, it’s not a bad idea!