Background/Context: Successful integration of educational technology is a complicated process that is influenced by multiple factors. Recently, both within and across schools, educators have been searching for cloud-based solutions to address the challenges of integrating educational technology into their school systems ─ assessing whether these programs are affordable, accessible, and well-suited to improve learning. While the popularity of cloud-based applications among educational institutions and students is rapidly increasing due to their enhanced sharing features, accessibility, and cost-efficiency, there have been few efforts to investigate the impacts of these cloud-based applications in educational settings, especially in K-12 settings.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This paper examines how Google Docs, one of the most popular cloud-based software applications, is integrated into middle-school English Language Arts (ELA) classrooms in a school district with a laptop initiative. Specifically, this case study attempts to understand the contemporary challenges of implementing the collaborative web-based tool and its accompanying opportunities, as well as the contextual factors for its implementation within the district.
Research Design: This qualitative study followed a grounded approach to data analysis. Using primarily initial coding and thematic coding methods, we analyzed interviews, surveys (from 2,152 students and 25 teachers), classroom observations, and student documents collected over the course of the 2011–2012 academic year. Analysis revealed three key themes (access and workability, cost and practicality, and affordances for writing), as well as the contextual factors of Google Docs implementation (the district’s focus on instructional goals and professional development).
Conclusion/Recommendations: Our case study suggests that the introduction of cloud-based tools was perceived by students, teachers, and district officials to make technology use more accessible and convenient, to enhance cost-efficiency and productivity, and, most importantly, to provide ample affordances for writing practice and instruction. The district-wide implementation of Google Docs provided broad, accessible, and affordable simultaneous access to students and teachers, while increasing their opportunities to improve writing skills through features such as feedback, revision history, and reader selection. We also identified key contextual factors that contributed to these favorable outcomes, such as the district’s focus on curricular integration and professional development. As one of the few studies that explores cloud-based tools' usability and benefits in K-12 settings, we hope to help school districts make informed decisions about adopting these applications for instruction. Though the particularities of context need to be taken into account, the case study nevertheless reveals a cloud-based environment’s salient affordances for learning in a district-wide implementation context.