Office web apps or Google docs for online learning?



I\’m faced with a dilemma, and I hope that you can help?

My team is working to introduce improved collaboration tools for our online learners. We have concluded that the native Wiki and file exchange features in our LMS are insufficient for the sort of rich collaboration that our student teams need. Uploading and downloading files is too cumbersome and error prone.

Student team members need to be able to collaboratively create and edit documents. Ideally, students should be able to collaborate on documents from whatever screen they happen to be holding – read tablet or smart phone.

So the choice seems to be to integrate Office Web Apps or Google Apps with our LMS.

By \”integrate\” with our LMS I only mean a loose integration – basically pass-through authentication. Once they logon to the LMS they should be able to hit a link to the Office Web Apps or Google Docs instance and not need to re-authenticate. A tighter integration would have some method of auto-permissioning documents based on pre-defined groups – but that can come later.

We\’ve been playing with both Office Web Apps and Google Docs (and we are long time Google Docs and Office users), and here is what we think we believe:

1. Office Web Apps is Appealing for Integration with the Offline Office Suite:

Our students live in Office documents. They are heavy Excel users for spreadsheets, PowerPoint mavens for presentations, and Word enthusiasts for documents. The students in our program are adult working professionals, and their workplaces run on MS Office. The main appeal to Office Web Apps is that our students would not need to change how they work. If Office Web Apps performed as Microsoft advertised then the platform would be an \”value add\” to the traditional Office product.

Office Web Apps would allow our students to share, edit and collaborate on documents through the browser. Any updates made on files would be visible in the Web version. Most editing and authoring would still be done in the client side applications, and the Office Web Apps platform would be utilized to share this work and perhaps perform light editing.

2. Google Docs is Much Better for Collaborative Writing:

The big advantage of Google Docs is that it is built for collaboration and built for the Web. Multiple people can work on a document simultaneously, watching each others edits in real time. In testing Office Web Apps it is clear that the browser based Word app is restricted, as multi-party simultaneous editing is not enabled.

The web based Excel app seems to have more collaborative features. I\’ve never really liked the Google Presenter app, as development seems to have been limited. Robust group authoring and collaboration in Google Docs is really hard to beat, and the lack of this ability in Word through the browser is disappointing.

We are confused about which way to go.

What do you think?

Are you also investigating either or both of these online productivity platforms as complements to your learning platforms?

Did you make a choice between Office Web Apps and Google Docs for your online learning needs?