We pay an annual fee to Google to maintain Google accounts for staff and students. These accounts come with dozens of online services, including (virtually) unlimited storage for all the data with those services.
If you were using computers 10 or more years ago, you probably remember having an application to write documents, an application to make slide shows, one to deal with email, one to make a spreadsheet, and so on. You had to install those applications on your computer and work on that computer alone.
Google services replace many of those applications with ones you use online, and they work together. So you can work from any computing device from anywhere.
If you are used to Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel), you might find the Google equivalents (Docs, Slides, Sheets) to be underpowered. They are. You might find online gMail lacks features of Outlook or other email clients. It does! So why rely on these online apps?
A list of Google produced “howto's” for Google located here howto's for Google Apps
Any file can go in your drive – a photo, a Word document, anything. You can also keep special files that open in Google's applications. Built in to Google are the tools to make documents (think Word), a spreadsheet (think Excel), a presentation (like PowerPoint) and simple drawings. But you can add extensions to make movies, edit photos, make charts and a lot else.
The school district pays Google (at an education discount) to manage our email for us. You can view your email through Google's interfaces. Students under 13 cannot, by Google's terms, have an email address. But every student (and teacher) has a username that looks a lot like an email address. They all end in @vashonsd.org, which means they are in the same domain (more on this later).
You can create events on a calendar, look at them from anywhere, and invite users from the @vashonsd.org domain to join those events.
In theory, you can join services together to make a seamless set. For instance, you can create a calendar event, set it to send email invitations, attach documents from your Drive to it. Again, think about how your bank will handle bill payments, loan you money and so on.
In practice, the services don't always integrate easily (they don't with banks, either). Knowing how to join services together is a skill that takes practice, and the terrain is always changing.
Because each student has a Google Drive of his/her own, we can have students create work, save it on their Drives, and share that work with teachers, family or other students. The work is viewable from anywhere. We can create templates and model assignments.
It may not be in every instance. Sometimes saving onto Google Drive is slow or buggy. The apps are fairly primitive compared to, say, Microsoft Office. And it is a little disturbing to hand all our work over to Google to take care of.
But here are the good things about using Google services:
Each student's Drive belongs to that student in perpetuity (or for as long as Google sticks around). Other students can't find it, trash it, move it around. From school year to school year, the Drive remains and follows the student.
A student can work on Drive files from anywhere. Home, school, New York City, Kathmandu, anywhere. Maybe we want to encourage working from home, maybe we don't. But the option is there.
We can make templates for students to work from. If we want students to make a presentation with a headline, a couple of pictures and a paragraph of writing, we create that template and share it with students.
A file in a Google Drive can be shared with anyone. If I share a file I created with you, you can at least look at it. If I choose, then you can change it or even delete it. If a student shares a folder with her parents, then anything she puts in that folder, her parents can see. If you make a folder and share it with your students, then your students can see anything you put in that folder.