WHY Google Apps?
As a Professional Learning Facilitator working with both teachers and students in a variety of schools throughout Northland and New Zealand, I have been reflecting on my facilitation and teaching pedagogy. My main focus has been thinking about the concepts of personalised learning, differentiated learning styles, and self-paced learning. With these concepts in mind, what I was looking for is a platform that could support my pedagogy and provide opportunities for me to personalise learning for participants, whether that be teachers or students. The ‘said’ platform needed to support differentiated learning styles allowing for text, video, audio, pictures, and finally, it needed to provide anytime-anywhere access to allow for self-paced learning.
The winner on the day has been Google Apps for Education (GAFE), in particular Google Docs, Google Presentations and Google Blogger. GAFE has provided me with the perfect platform. By its very nature, GAFE allows opportunities for collaboration, which fitted perfectly with my thinking.
I would like to share an example of how I have used GAFE to launch a collaborative inquiry into Digital Citizenship. The idea for this student inquiry came about through conversations with the Principals of Kamo Schools and the Learning with Digital Technologies Facilitators. We were discussing the importance of digital citizenship as part of the curriculum, and ‘brainstorming’ the best options for integrating this learning. We were adamant that the learning needed to be student ‘owned’ so that there be a deeper understanding. We didn’t want to go down the path of creating a digital citizenship agreement, which was then given to students to sign. We envisaged students inquiring into what it is to be a responsible digital citizen in their home, school, community, and world, and being leaders in sharing this information as well as spinning the inquiry out further. Our thought was that students involved in the process would support their teachers and other students through the same process in classes.
Preparation of the teachers
Before I share how the student inquiry happened, it is important to tell the story of how I began.
In order to ‘test’ the resources I had set up within the Google Docs and Google Presentation around digital citizenship, I worked through the same inquiry process with a teaching team. At the team meeting, the teaching team were the learners, and I role modelled my ideas on how I would ‘kick start’ this inquiry with learners in the classroom. They worked in teams to delve deeper into their thinking around what is digital citizenship, and chose various ways to present back their thinking to the wider team. This process allowed teachers to follow their own learning journey, choose whether to work as an individual or within a team, and provided a variety of ways to view the information — through readings, YouTube clips, photos, and website links. Feedback from this teaching team was very positive. They reflected on the importance of being a learner, and going through the inquiry process as a teacher to give them an insight to how this feels for the student in their classrooms.
How the student inquiry happened
In term 4 2014, Catriona Pene and I began working with a group of students from four different schools in the Kamo community. The students ranged in age from year 3 through to year 9. We met with the students every Friday for an hour and a half. Our major focus with this group was to inquire into what a digital citizen in the Kamo community looks land acts like. Teams were formed, with students of different ages and from different schools making up the 4 teams.
Our role as Facilitators was to provide them with the necessary resources via a Google Doc/Google Presentation and Google Blogger and continually guide their exploration and learning along the way. Their goal was to delve into the resources, collaborate on how they would deliver their findings as a team, and present back to the wider group their understanding of a digital citizen. All of our ‘energy’ went into the organising of the resources within the Google Apps platforms for the students to explore. Our thinking was that if we simply sent them off to search ‘Digital Citizen’ they would come up with 168,000,000 results, some good and some not! Google Docs/Presentations allowed us to create a guided learning pathway, providing them with an opportunity to explore video links, websites, images, and audio that we knew would support them to see and evaluate the various perspectives and issues. Google Blogger simply provided us with the platform to share our continued learning, our reflections and our final products. The anytime/anywhere learning aspect of Google Apps allowed the students to share their learning with parents/whānau/teachers and other students in between our weekly sessions.
Students and teachers who joined us for our sessions reflected on the learning process and provided feedback that Google Apps had provided them with the perfect platform for their collaborative inquiry. They enjoyed learning at their own pace through a variety of different mediums and being able to collaborate within the Google environment.
- Minimal facilitation was required after the initial learning criteria and objectives were delivered by the facilitator
- The students drove their own learning and utilised prior knowledge and individual strengths to create presentations
- The older students naturally adopted leadership roles within the groups but did not dominate concepts or ideas
- Effective use of web 2.0 enabled students to evaluate and reflect on their learning at the end of the project
- Integration of technology into the collaborative project provided an opportunity for students to learn in new and innovative ways
- Students’ motivational and engagement levels were high due to the authenticity of project and connections made with the community
I enjoyed the opportunity to work with kids who were lots of different ages, different ages think in different ways so we learnt from each other. Because I was the oldest, I liked being able to be the team leader and encouraging everyone to listen to each other ideas. Using Google Apps for all of our collaborative work was good, it makes it easy to share and work together. We had access anywhere so if you forgot your device you can find it on another. Because it was in Google Apps it meant I could share our work with my Mother and Teacher and I could get feedback from them.
Zane — a student from Kamo High School
I have continued to utilise Google Apps as my launching platform for inquiry for both teachers and students. I am excited by the changes I have made in my facilitation/teaching practice and encourage you to explore the examples I have provided below and think about how you too can utilise Google Apps as a launching platform.
- Student Inquiry into Digital Citizenship
- Student Inquiry into Blogging
- Teacher Inquiry into ePortfolios
- Teacher Inquiry into Teaching as Inquiry
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