Kicking the Gmail Tires

I have to say that I am falling deeper and deeper into the google universe these days. Not sure if it is the right thing to do, but the combination of all the Docs features and their overall simplicity has me spending more and more time using them for everything. One of their tools that I’ve always admired but didn’t use too much is Gmail. My wife lives in it — she constantly has it open on her MacBook. It is her only email client and she swears by its functionality. Between that and a conversation I had today I decided to take another step into the cloud and forward my work email into Gmail. I know it may sound crazy, but I am really digging it — so far.

This could be another one of my failed experiments and I’ll be back to my Apple before too long. But so far I am finding a few things that I really like. The first is the overall customization of the platform itself. I can do lots of interesting things to make the space look and react the way I want it to. I have it set up with multiple inboxes so messages from certain people get their own little space … they still flow into my inbox, but this gives me the ability to highlight certain people more easily. When I combine that with the filters and labels I get a nice way to keep certain messages well organized.

Multiple Inboxes

Multiple Inboxes

I am also already finding that the mobile access simply kicks ass. The gmail interface on the iPhone is killer … I can do all the same stuff I can on my iPhone and then some. It reformats for iPhone on the fly and it is speedy over the 3G connection. I haven’t tried it on Edge yet, but I do know at least one other gmail user on edge and he seems very happy with it. The search is available and that is one thing the on the iPhone cannot do. I can also create a simple button that points right to my inbox and replace the standard Apple button on my iPhone menu. I do lose notifications, but without push email here at PSU it isn’t a big deal.

Speaking of notifications, the ability to install something as simple as gmail notifier is a major bonus. Without having my browser open I can see what is new and I even get a little heads up display (a lot like a growl notification) that gives me a peek into what is new in my inbox. I’m already finding I am less distracted by not having my client open all the time.


Finally, I have it set to send with the return address being my psu email address so it looks like it is actually coming from me at PSU when appropriate — and if I want to send it from my gmail address there is a little drop down menu that lets me do that. Easy. All in all I am digging it for now. I’ll keep trying it out and see where it leads me. Anyone else gone this route?

The Plunge

Last night I attended my doctoral course in assessment here at Penn State. I was surprised that I was a bit anxious as I walked into the room. I guess it comes back to the fact that I was a student and not the teacher for the first time in quite some time. I’ve been teaching courses at Penn State off and on for the last eight years, so the notion of sitting on the other side of the equation left me feeling a bit vulnerable (I think that is what I was feeling). I’ve been quietly working on my doctorate for the last couple years — slowly plodding along, but exclusively by doing independent studies, taking courses online, or by getting credit for teaching. This is the first time I have been a student in a real classroom in quite some time, so being a bit nervous was a natural feeling. I am lucky enough to be taking the course from my advisor and friend, Dr. Kyle Peck and his wife, Dr. Catherine Augustine. Both of them are easy going and very smart. They put us at ease — all nine of us.

After I got into the flow I found class to be rather relaxing — I was able to leave email and daily demands alone for a good three hours as we talked through some very basic concepts related to assessment. I think my positions at the Institution have afforded me unique views into the issues we’ll explore so I felt as though I was at a bit of an advantage. I have either been a practicing instructional designer or leading instructional design teams for the last 12 years so that has also given me experience in the things we were talking about — made me immediately ready to dive in. I think I will be able to add value to the class on a few levels and am looking forward to exploring it all as it progresses.

With that in mind, I am going to try something a little different as I move through this experience … I am going to use this space and my PSU blog to attempt to open the course up to those not in the room through my thoughts. I am begining to wonder how I can use an open set of tools to invite others into my learning and see how it impacts my own thoughts and outcomes. I’ll be writing weekly reflections, tagging content in delicious with insys522, making new YouTube videos asking questions from the course, creating podcasts, and more. These aren’t assignments … no one is directing me to do this.

My own personal reflection from the experience last night has pushed me to ask some new questions about teaching, learning, and community engagement. I am curious about what more I can learn by almost redesigning things as they happen to me … sort of looking at design as a mind tool. Will I create deeper meaning for myself through this practice and will it have any sort of impact on people in and out of the course are two issues I am eager to explore? Those are just two of the questions I am considering as I walk into a fresh field of snow — no footsteps to follow on this one for me. I’ll do my best to be as transparent through the process and I welcome any and all comments, feedback, encouragement, or whatever else gets thrown my way. So, in a sense I am inviting you to engage in a semester long experiment with me to see what learning and sharing in the open can mean. I hate to say it, but even if you don’t show up I will — but I certainly hope you do! Anyone up to take the plunge with me?