Today’s teachers are looking for technology tools that increase productivity and improve workflow. Students are also in need of practical, reliable technology software. According to Roblyer (2016), software tools known as the “basic suite” can improve productivity, improve appearance [of products], improve accuracy, and provide more support for interaction and collaboration. Typically included in the basic suite of software are word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs.
Two of the most commonly used basic suites are produced by Microsoft and Google. Microsoft offers Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and Google offers Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Microsoft Word is a word processing program that allows the user to create documents, newsletters, brochures, etc. with both text and graphics. The use of spell check and a variety of fonts adds accuracy and interest to the documents. Students can use a word processing program to write essays, reports, letters, or to create poetry and flyers. While teachers can choose to create lesson plans, assignments, parents letters and much more. The relative advantage of a word processing program over pen and paper is a more polished look, the ability to share files with other students a teachers, and to save documents for later use. Google Docs offers the additional features of collaboration (two or more students can work on the same document at the same time) and the teacher has the ability to make comments and corrections directly on the student’s document. “Adaptive keyboard and voice recognition capabilities make writing more accessible for students with physical challenges.” Roblyer (2016). I was recently able to use Google Docs to create a Back to School Night packet to share with parents. If a parent cannot attend the meeting, the packet can easily be emailed home.
Spreadsheet software such as Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets have also become valuable technology tools for educators and students. Spreadsheets put numerical information in a row-column format and can also be used for calculations by applying mathematical formulas. Data such as student lists, club information, and checklists can easily be copied and manipulated in the columns and rows. For example, this year I have 75 students that move in 3 different groups. I can enter all of their data, including their various groups, into a spreadsheet and then choose which columns to organize the information by. This is a huge time saver, as previously I had to create many different tables of student information and then choose which table was appropriate for each task. Students can take surveys and polls and then input the results into spreadsheets. From there, they can create charts and graphs to make the data more visually interesting and clear. Google Sheets offers a similar advantage as Google docs by allowing collaboration and sharing capabilities among teachers and students.
A third element of the basic suite is presentation software. Most people are familiar with Microsoft Powerpoint as a tool to display text, graphics, audio, and video in a multimedia style slideshow. Google’s version of presentation software is known as Google Slides. Both Powerpoint and Slides can help organize thinking about a topic, enhance the impact of spoken information, and allow collaboration on presentations. It is important that students and teachers understand the basics of a quality presentation. Overuse of text and bullet points, poor color combinations, and difficult to read fonts can all weaken the impact of a good presentation. Overuse of animations can leave the audience feeling like they just left the funhouse. However, when used well, standard book reports, review games, and project presentations can be much more enjoyable and interesting. Another advantage of presentation software is the ability to include links to additional sources and websites related to the presentation.
Software support tools known as the basic suite have become indispensable resources for students and teachers alike. Basic tasks can be done efficiently and shared with other teachers, students, or parents in an email. Materials used from year to year can be organized, reworked, and enhanced on either flash drives or computer files. “Teachers choose them not only because they have qualities that aide classroom instruction and help make classroom time more productive, but also because they give students experience with 21st century tools that they will see again and again in their workplaces.” Roblyer (2016).