(Cross-posted on the Google for Work blog.)

Editor's note: Karen French works in instructional technology support for the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education, helping to train the next generation of teachers.

The freshmen who enroll at the University of Texas at Austin have grown up in a world of ready-at-their-fingertips cloud applications that they can use anywhere and everywhere. However, storing files in the cloud and collaborating on documents in real-time is still a thing of wonder to me and the faculty in my department, the College of Education – we’re old enough to remember the days of sharing documents with thumb drives, not to mention marking papers by hand. Since our students have grown up with Google, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that in 2011 they cheered our decision to bring Google Apps for Education to UT Austin for 50,000+ students and 24,000 faculty and staff.

Campus-wide, Google Apps and Google Drive make learning and teaching much more flexible. On a campus this size, in the middle of a major city (with major traffic headaches), not everyone can always be in the same classroom at the same time to work together on a project. Students are used to shifting from a laptop to a tablet to a phone and back, and with Drive, they can get hold of the study guides or in-progress research papers when they need them on whatever device they’re on at the moment. Our campus users currently store nearly 5 million files on Drive today.
Longhorn students hard at work while enjoying the sun in front of UT Austin's George I. Sanchez building
“I initially came to school without a laptop, so I didn’t have a single, stable place to store all my files,” says Valentina Rodriguez, a second-year student in UT’s School of Architecture. “Using Google Drive, and knowing that I could access all my files and projects from anywhere with a WiFi connection, was a huge weight off my shoulders, and let me focus on succeeding academically instead of worrying about where to save my projects.”

For all of UT’s professors, as well as the future teachers we’re training at the College of Education, Google Apps has been a revelation. It’s upended, in a good way, how we reflect on and think about teaching. Google Apps takes down the walls and time constraints of being in a classroom. Teachers can collaborate with students outside of the usual class times, making learning happen more organically.

The collaborative benefits of Google Apps aren’t just for the classroom. Our professors use Google Docs to work together on papers for conferences. UT Austin administrative staff use Google Forms to get quick feedback without the need to collect paper surveys or wait for email responses.

Since Google Apps for Education is free for schools, it’s a boon to UT’s budget, but there’s another long-term benefit: Students keep their University of Texas email addresses and Google Apps accounts even after they graduate. As we say, “once a Longhorn, always a Longhorn.”

To learn more about Google solutions for Higher Education, join our webinar with Georgetown University on November 13 at 12pm PST and with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College on November 20 at 11am PST.