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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

CALENDARS!

Wow. Seems my life has been consumed by calendars for the last few years, and this year hasn't eased up a bit as our school looks to transition away from our old calendar system to something that is more user-friendly in the age of mobile devices and subscriptions to public calendars.  I've taken up the charge to try and figure it all out. I would estimate throughout my testing, both personal and professional, I have created more than 100 different calendars, within multiple user accounts, as I figure out sharing settings, notifications, editing options, and how to create a workable system in an institution as large as ours, that meets the needs of all of our stakeholders without overwhelming everyone with too many calendars and repeated entries.

Say what? ACK!

Since our school's adoption of Google Apps for Education, Google Calendars has been winning the war...the sharing and scheduling options are just too easy, and the subscription options make it far easier to share important dates with our community with the click of a button.  The cultural shift from "pull" technology to "push" technology has been significant, and we seem to want our calendars to automagically do everything for us, remind of us events, notify us when things change, and keep us where we need to be at all times.  Most of the time it is working, but not without significant effort! And that's just for me...this hasn't gone institutional yet.

I thought I'd just take a minute to share a few resources that have helped me on this journey. I've been a Mac user since the dawn of time...my MobileMe account (now iCloud) is so old that I no longer have the ability to change my username (kind of a problem since my name has changed).  To make an extremely LONG story short, I have moved everything to Google Calendars. I have a whole pile of work-related calendars in my professional account, and a few more calendars in my personal Gmail account.  But I still use iCal to view them sometimes, and I use the Calendar app on my iPhone to keep track of all events on all calendars at all times. I prefer it to the web interface of Google Calendars when I'm on my phone. At times, my master "calendar" looks like a magic rainbow of activities, but I'm finally getting used to it, and I'm no longer double-booking because I missed something on one calendar buried somewhere I can't remember. Here are my two biggest "help me!" discoveries:

Syncing Google Calendars to Your Personal Device

(borrowed from our faculty help website)
Perhaps the most frequent, and vexing questions currently circulating are: How can I get all of my Google calendars to show up in iCal on my computer or the Calendar App on my iPhone? The answers are a bit long, but it can be done if you are patient and persistent - good habits of mind!

To add your primary Google calendar and delegate calendars to iCal on your computer, use this Google support link as a starting point.

To properly add your primary Google calendar and any delegate calendars, or even multiple GMail or Google Apps accounts to the Calendar App on your iOS device is slightly more time consuming, but you can do it!

The first step is to make sure your iOS device does not have any of your Google accounts set up as a "Google" account. Counterintuitive? Yes! If they are, remove the account.

Now, use this Google support link to set up your Google account as a Microsoft Exchange account.

You will need to repeat this step for each Google account you wish to sync to your device.

Once your account is set up on your iPhone or other iOS device, point the browser at https://m.google.com/sync/setting/iconfig/
It is very important to use the trailing slash!
At the login screen, enter your Google email address and password.
Select the iPhone (or other iOS device) and choose all the calendars you wish to sync.

If you are syncing multiple Google accounts to this device, you may need to scroll to the bottom of the page and sign out of the last account you set up then sign in to the second, etc.

NOTE: None of this was possible with our old calendaring system, or at least not without significant stress, training, cost, and major changes to the way the system is managed. But at the end of the day, even if we had done all that, the calendars would never have been "subscribable" on our website the way Google calendars are. Since that was a clearly expressed need by our constituents, we did not pursue any kind of syncing in the old system.

Subscribe to Calendars Online with Google (webcal links)

If you're like me, your computer was all set up to handle webcal links in iCal, and so when I subscribed to various calendars (like the public calendar for our Lower School or Middle School, or my daughter's soccer club calendar, or the choir calendar, etc.) these would automatically get added to iCal under my .Mac [turned .Me turned iCloud--make up your mind Apple!] account.  I could still get all of these to show up on my phone in the Calendar app, but when I was logged into all the Google Calendars online (on my computer) I couldn't see them. Sooooooo.....I decided to take the plunge and switch my "Handlers" so that all webcal links would automatically get added to Google Calendars instead.  Now I just have to be logged into the right Google calendar (personal or professional) before I subscribe. I used this Google support page to help me out, but here's the gist (if you use Chrome as your browser, anyway):

Open your Google Calendar in Chrome. Look for the overlapping diamond symbol in the omnibar. Click it and switch to Google for webcal links. That's it!

Still a Work in Progress

Technology is advancing rapidly, and just when we think we have one method figured out, another one comes along. There are multiple 3rd party calendar apps that accomplish many of these things, but I am restricting my research to what every member of our school community has access to RIGHT NOW, and we have already taken significant steps to get a few of our PC-based departments using the web interface of Google Calendars quite effectively. If the tech savvy among us decide to break ranks and pursue a different interface to VIEW and INTERACT with their calendars, it's no skin off my nose. But a fundamental understanding of how Google Calendars work has to come first. Once we come to an agreed-upon base level of competence for our workflow, we can start to add support/help for the variety of devices and apps out there. In the mean time...


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