Friday, 3 August 2012

Starting with Google Apps

With the demise, last term, of St Felix I'll be starting a new post at Newmarket College teaching Creative Media. Yet it won't feel unfamiliar or lonely at all. After the St Felix Fire in 2008, Newmarket College hosted our Year 7s and 8s for a term whilst Portacabin built us a new school. Over the last year or so, many of my St Felix colleagues have taken up posts at the College and several of us who hung on to the bitter end will be moving there next term. The majority of the students from St Felix go on to the college where they'll be joined by students from Scaltback Middle - Newmarket's other Middle School.
Something else familiar will be joining me there too - Google Apps.  Followers of this blog will know that we've been using Google Apps at St Felix Middle School for two years now. I fully intend to continue using Apps at the College. It remains an essential suite of apps and collaboration environment as far as I'm concerned. We adopted it when the company who provided our Learning Platform / VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) were planning to begin charging us 3000 GBP per annum for their, frankly, rather clunky service. The UK Government funded VLEs for schools for three years - aiming to support their adoption in schools while also providing support for startup UK companies. Google Apps was and is a free service and offers pretty much the same as a VLE - only better... it's more flexible and has the support of one of the world's largest tech companies (32nd. in 2011). They also tend to stay in the development frontline. 
I use Google Apps as the core of a growing number of free Web 2.0 applications, some of which I blog about here. Reading through my Scoop-it daily summary I came upon a recommendation for the Spicy Nodes app. Now the name could easily have put me off, but if I can cope with glogsters and twitters, I can cope with a name that sounds like Chicken Nuggets Tikka Masala. 
One of the suggestions on the Spicy Nodes site was to use one of their mindmaps as a rather cool navigation device. This re-ignited thoughts about the Google Apps Start Page I was discussing with @ianaddison at the end of last term about ways to freshen the page up. He liked my idea of embedding a mini Wallwisher wall to act as an easily-updated noticeboard. I found that I was often fiddling around with my tastefully minimalist (though rather static) Apps Start Page,  frequently adding and removing links to keep it fresh. An easily edited noticeboard was just the ticket.

The Spicy Nodes mind map I've posted above isn't finished yet - though it should update as I go along. Each node will be hyperlinked to a relevant page or app. I like the way it looks simple but repays exploration by opening each node up into sub-topics - just click the Google Apps node to see what I mean. If you're a Google Apps user you should be able to access and re-mix my start page to suit your needs - just search for Google Apps Start on the Spicy Nodes site. 
I believe @ianaddison is on his honeymoon presently, so I don't suppose he'll be that interested in my latest idea. I mean, we geeks have limits... I think...