Thursday, March 01, 2007

Students should use Google Calendar

I’m still futzing with my sidebar, trying to add new elements. But Blogger doesn’t seem to be performing well with that content and I’m not sure whether it’s too much javascript calling on too many outside sources of content or if it is Blogger itself. In any event, for the time being I decided to put the most recent experiment on its own Web page. This is a public Google Calendar in Agenda view, with some EdTech events included. Clicking on the title of any event brings up the detailed entry for that event in Google Calendar and there you should find a link back to the source. There is also an ICAL button that when you click on it will allow you to import this Event Calendar into your ICAL compatible calendar tool (Outlook 2007 is the example I have verified and part of the verification was to confirm that the hyperlinks do survive on import; this doesn’t work with calendars in CSV format) and a different Google Calendar button that is for users who themselves have a Google Calendar and want to subscribe to this public event calendar.

I really didn’t put much information into this demo and in truth I likely won’t keep this up (until the rest of the world adopts a like practice) because I had to do some manual data entry to get those events into the calendar and while I was willing to do that to see if the experiment works otherwise, I’m not willing to do that on a recurrent basis. So it may be just as well that this is not in the sidebar. But I want to use that observation to turn the question upside down. I used the CITES EdTech Calendar and the TLT Group Event Calendar as sources for my little experiment. Neither of them put their information up as ICAL nor do they use Google Calendar to distribute their information. The question is, why not?

I know with the EdTech one, since I attended one of their brown bags just yesterday, that they ask you to register and then when you do they send you a confirmation email. I can then take that email in Outlook and drag to my calendar to create an event. But, truthfully, registering for a face to face brown bag seems odd to me; it is not the practice with other seminars and workshops around campus. And, if I’m going to enter the time and place of the event in my calendar in Outlook anyway, why do I have to do the second step of registering too? I’d like this to be done in one fell swoop.

My campus has an Event Calendar Service offered by Web Services, and one of the nice features of this service is that calendar information can be rolled up from other Calendars also using this tool. So, for example, in my college each unit can have an Event Calendar and then the College can maintain an Event Calendar that aggregates the various unit calendars. To the extent that Event Calendars are a form of marketing, this approach makes a lot of sense (though at present I can only get an RSS feed for these calendars; I can’t get an ICAL download). However, there is a different view of event calendars that they are mostly there to solve coordination problems and once you think of events as quite possibly being online then a University based event calendar might be too limiting. For example, if my College were doing something jointly with a Business School in India, where we offered some online seminars and so did they and where we want students and faculty at both places to be in attendance, then the Google Calendar approach would allow calendar sharing readily but the single University Event Calendar approach would not. Also, to the extent that outsiders are encouraged to take part in these events, taking advantage of the Google Calendar search function (requires a Google Calendar account) is a pretty powerful way to identify particular events. Having an event calendar on your site only means these outsiders have to know to frequent that site.

* * * * *

I’m really interested in these issues more from the teaching and learning view and in that setting the canonical problem is that students are on project teams and need to schedule team meetings outside of the regularly scheduled class meeting time. How do they find a good time that works for all team members?

My campus doesn’t at present offer a calendar service that is freely available to students and the two services that currently do exist on a fee basis (Exchange/Outlook, Oracle Calendar) are really aimed at faculty/staff, not at students. So students either do without an electronic calendar at all, keep a personal electronic calendar that is not networked in any way (for example, if they use Outlook as their email client they may use the Calendar function in that, without the Exchange server back end) or they use a third party email/calendar service such as Google’s, Microsoft’s Windows Live (or the older Hotmail), or Yahoo’s offering. And in some cases students have multiple accounts, with the same third party provider or with different third party providers.

At the moment, students have to feel their way in how to make a choice about calendaring. If I were a student now, I’d choose Google. I’d definitely want a networked calendar, and in my opinion at present the Google offering is the most fully functional while still quite easy to use. The event calendar discussion was meant to illustrate the point, and for that we’re talking about publicly available calendar information only. Google is also quite good on sharing private calendar information and in allowing multiple calendars for different uses within one account. This is a well thought through tool.

I do think that mostly students have chosen one or the other of these third party solutions based on the email offering, not based on the calendaring. And a big thing that determined the outcome of that choice was the time it was made. Some of our current Freshmen had email when the were in the fifth or sixth grade, and among those some are still using the same account. Those kids are likely using Hotmail or Yahoo. For those who made a new account with a third party when they came to college, I think many of them chose Google, and they were probably driven by the large quota. Google was clever marketing Gmail that way, but quota has become a non-issue now, because disk space for items that don’t need a high level of security is so cheap.

I think the issue now is convenience – particularly using these services on a handheld as well as on a pc – how fully featured they are, and ease of use. At present, I think Google is the leader in these dimensions. There is an issue of whether that lead is transient or sustainable. I’ve got no crystal ball. I’ve only got the intuition about what made Microsoft so formidable in the ‘90s – they had the operating system. They parlayed that into winning on the Office Suite, and then the browser. I think search now is the analog to the operating system then. Google has search. Of course the others have a search capability too. But Google has search. Bill Gates admitted that much on the Charlie Rose show not too long ago. So if I were betting I’d bet against leap frogging, at least into the near future.

In my College there is a big fandom for Microsoft products and I’m guessing that is true of many business schools. But elsewhere around campus there are pockets where Microsoft is viewed as Darth Vader. As far as I know there are no such pockets where Google is viewed this way, though there is much fear among the security conscious that Google will misappropriate some of the huge amount of profile information that it has been collecting from its users. And for some the risk of that misappropriation will keep them away.

But in my view when weighing risks, upside as well as downside, opting for Google Calendar makes for a good choice.


eraser said...

Muy interesante post sobre Google Calendar.javascript:void(0)
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JBJ said...

30 boxes aims pretty directly at the college market. One of their founders was interviewd on the dorm'd podcast, I think, a couple of months ago.

It's a little more oriented toward social networking, I think, than Google calendar.

Lanny Arvan said...

JBJ - thanks for the tip. It looks like an interesting alternative.

My sense is that many of our students use Gmail, so Google Calendar would not be much of a stretch for them. Do you have any idea about 30 Boxes usage among students?