The Google Suite in Action in School
A few years ago Hazel tried to get me interested in Google Docs (G Docs) for collaborative work and, like many of us with new technologies and ideas, I was a little sceptical about their use and also felt it may just be one more fad that wouldn’t last. How wrong I was and what a wonderful tool G Docs are. I use them all of the time now with my students, both f2f and online, generally to great effect.This link will give more information about G Docs for those that are interested - https://www.google.com/docs/about/
An initial issue I had with G Docs was the filing of all of the docs in the correct place when the students shared their work with me. After talking to my Google ‘go to man’ I leant about Doctopus. This allows me to share documents with the students and keep them all filed accordingly - so much easier than them sharing with me. All you need are the student’s email addresses entered onto a Google Sheet (Googles version of Excel), a pre-prepared document to share and the Doctopus add on. For more information about Doctopus see this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xw7SuTDCxJo
The real benefit I have found in using G Docs with the students (and at times my peers) is that it is possible to collaborate with other people in real time. Students can work on a shared document to create a finished piece even when they are sitting at home doing their homework. I can add comments to the work even as the students are writing their material, much as if I were talking to them in the classroom. This last feature has proved invaluable with my distance learners who I only see f2f once a week via video conference; I am able to make sure that they stay on track with their work and don’t wander off topic or hassle them if they don’t do any work at all. A bit ‘big brotherish’ but most students say they find it reassuring to know that I am monitoring and guiding them on a regular basis.
Looking further into the Google suite with the assistance of a colleague, I realised just what a marvellous package it is. The fact that everything is so easy to share, edit and co-create is truly inspirational and refreshing. As part of my personal PD I explored the use of Google Sites (G Sites) for teaching and learning and decided fairly quickly that this was a vehicle that I could easily use to provide resources and activities for my students. For an overview of G Sites check out this link https://www.google.com/sites/overview.html
My first attempt at creating a G Site was the local squash club site that needed updating. This was a very basic site but it gave me a taste of what I could do and also made me aware of what I also needed to learn to get a site looking really good and attractive for the students. This awareness saw me have a period of playing so that I could create material relatively easily and quickly. I felt I needed to be able to do this so that when I introduced the students to the site I could make any amendments they requested, or amend errors they spotted, quickly and effectively. I like to be able to appear confident in front of the students as it also gives them confidence that I actually know what I am doing and am able to help them more comprehensively.
My ‘playsite’ was a test site for the school I teach at. I created pages for all of the various aspects of school life, created drop downs within many of the tabs to give more options and keep the tabs to a manageable number.
To further enhance the interest levels I also managed to get a Google slideshow (Google version of Powerpoint) onto the front page with images of school activities scrolling through on a timer..
After having played for a while I must admit I became almost obsessed with creating new and exciting things on the site - but how effective were they to the information transfer and would they help students to learn?
Remembering a book I read a little while back about the setup of Trade Me (loaned to me by a colleague) I thought about the simplicity they suggested needed to be present for an effective website to operate effectively. Commonalities on each page, ease of navigation etc all matter. Working with children from years 9-13 made me rethink the complexities that I had started to add to my sites. I returned to the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle after discussing the site with the Digitech teacher at my school. That is not to say that I made the site too simplistic, I just made it more user friendly and easier to navigate, often using nested navigation to tidy up the pages. The resulting sites (Geography and Social Studies) have evolved into sites that the students are comfortable using, are easily amended/updated and are available freely wherever/whenever the students need them. The issue of copyright is obviously important when using images or text ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere. If it is text I have used I reference it in the same way I would in any written work; for images I make sure that I put the link with the image which then shows if the mouse is hovered over the image. The sites are a continuing evolution, as they need to be as curricula and student needs dictate.
I then started thinking about how I could use this new skill to help me. An odd thing for a teacher to think about as we are nearly always thinking about how we can help others rather than ourselves, but the thought hit me so I ran with it. The technology is available so why not use it to my own ends.
Now I don’t know about anyone else, but when it comes to gathering and recording evidence for Teacher Registration (http://educationcouncil.org.nz/content/teacher-registration-process), I am not the best. I tend to have to scratch around to find out what PD I’ve done etc just before Registration is due - and it’s a chore. I needed a better way to record and present the material so I created a website with all of the criteria on there as separate pages. As I am on my computer quite a lot I find it much less onerous to just flip onto the site after a PD session and update the records. I can also include evidence of student work etc on the site, either as a picture or as a link to G Docs that the students have been working on. Video clips of interactions with students are also easily stored and presented.
The site I created was seen by a couple of my peers and they wanted one as well, so I just shared a blank copy and away they went (after a bit of PD on how to edit the pages). Word got round and now at least half of the staff at school are using a copy of the site for their teacher registration material/evidence. The PD required for most staff is minimal - if they can edit a Word Doc then they can create material on a G Site that is set up for them. Myself and other staff have had to present our evidence to the Principal (and the other agency) for continued registration. There have been no complaints - in fact it has been said that it is easier to see what evidence there is on the website than having to trawl through the files of paper that we used to submit.
If you haven’t got into the Google suite yet, especially Google Docs or Sites, I strongly recommend that you give them a go. Initially you may find it takes a bit of getting used to but in the long run - a life saver.
HOD Geography/Social Studies
VC Geography Teacher
Add a Comment