Part III – Presenting the Total PACKage
My role as the librarian and multiple literacies instructor at Prairie Wind is to find innovative ways to bring students and research together. I’m tasked to be an instructor of authorship, literacy, critical thinking, collaboration, research methodology, and all things technology and be able to teach that across every grade level at my school. There are volumes of documentation on how learners differ at different grade levels and even how they differ within grade levels. However, in my experience, I’ve noticed one common thread throughout my students’ academic careers between Kindergarten and Sixth Grade: They desire to be social. My district is still trying to come to grips with how technological students have become, but they are making progress. They are not, however, deviating from the traditional educational mindset of: Students are to be seen in their desks ready to learn, not heard. My students crave social interaction with their learning activities, but many different circumstances prevent it.
My library is a shared teaching space. There are sometimes as many as three other teachers acting in various educational capacities in the library at any given time. It becomes very difficult to give those teachers and students that are with them the learning environment they need when there are 26 or more students conversing and socializing even if they are all engaged in the activity. This is merely one of the problems that Google Apps would resolve in my current educational setup.
I believe that content changes in a very significant manner. It allows the students to learn and explore in “real time.” In our readings, understanding was classified as not just being the acquisition of knowledge, but also the organization of the knowledge. Though this aspect of the benefits of Google Apps doesn’t necessarily overtly change my pedagogical approach, it does affect the quality of my pedagogy. I cannot teach my students as much as I’d like if they have no time to organize what’s being taught into a form that they can understand and utilize in the future.
The integration of Google Apps into my classroom would change the way that the content of my lessons is presented and applied. The content would become more interactive and more socially integrated within the classroom. I would be able to utilize collaborative and cooperative learning strategies through grouping as well as extend the learning and work environment of my class beyond the timeframe given to me by the class scheduling. This means that I can potentially increase the amount of content I can cover or delve deeper into the content that is the most beneficial and interesting to my students.
It can also make existing content far more interactive. For example, I do a research project on rocks and minerals with my sixth graders. I have a wide variety of resources available including books, encyclopedias, and the internet. They create a brochure on the topic. It is a pretty straight forward project that isn’t meaningful at all. With Google Apps, I could build meaning by allowing the students to work on the project whenever and wherever. This means they could go home and look around their neighborhood for any rocks and do research there. They can contribute their findings on a shared Google Doc and compare notes with his or her group members. Even more powerful would be the opportunity to work on a project with someone who is elsewhere in the world. Nebraska, for example, does not have any volcanoes. However, Hawaii does. Perhaps a Google Doc project that teams up a student in my class with a student in Hawaii would really bring the learning home.
Google Apps are a complete suite of different collaborative online software that mimics established programs. Many of them are already familiar to the search engine aspect of Google and some may even use iGoogle and Google Mail (Gmail). Google Apps have a word processing program (Google Docs), a slideshow-based presentation program (Google Presentations), a calendar (Google Calendar), a program where users can design feedback/quizzes/surveys/etc. (Google Forms), a website creator (Google Sites), a video and chat conferencing program (Google Hangouts), and many more features as well.
The scale of the technology can be staggering, but for my purposes, the main Apps I’d utilize in my situation would be Google Docs, Google Forms, Google Presentations, Google Calendar, and Google Forms. Students would even be able to keep their Forms, Docs, and Presentations organized through the Google Drive system, which serves as a sort of “Inbox” for all projects created with Google Docs, Forms, and Presentations. This serves my purposes far better than any alternatives because of its “centralized” location. Finally, as school districts across the country are worried about the financial bottom line, Google Apps offer my district its current infrastructure isn’t: The whole App package is free.
The goal of this DreamIt isn’t to replace any existing lessons or curriculum with technology. The goal I envision Google Apps satisfying is that of providing students, teachers, and administrators with a technological means of collaboration and accountability to augment existing teaching practices. The teachers in my school have a wide variety of issues that interconnect with other teachers in the building. If they learn to rely upon Google Calendar, they can share upcoming important dates, deadlines, and pacing information with each other for ease of planning. It isn’t often that teachers in my building have the time to truly collaborate on everything even if they do have plan time at the same time.
Students utilizing Google Apps need to learn how to share their work with their partners as well as which Google App is appropriate for the project being assigned. Aside from the actual program familiarization, I expect my students to be able to collaborate with each other as a means of building understanding from each other rather than waiting for me to help explain everything. I have found that students will listen to students far more attentively than they will to my repetition or re-explanation of any given idea or lesson. Google Apps would give students the ability to collaborate on the lessons being taught without breaking the stereotype of being seen not heard while not having to wait until I am able to handle their questions. I do not anticipate this would resolve every question, but it would solve a lot of the FAQ-style questions each lesson seems to build.
Finally, I always get complaints from students that they do not have enough time to work on their projects in class. We have to teach as much as we can as fast as we can, despite research showing that to be less than ideal. With Google Apps, the students will be able to work on their projects at any time at school or at home (or anywhere they have a stable internet connection).
Google Apps changes how the information is processed, evaluated, and applied. When I teach a subject using a presentation tool such as Google Presentation, I can share the Presentation with all of my students even if I do not allow them to alter the Presentation easily. Therefore, they can review the assignment any time they wish. The pedagogy changes because the student becomes far more active in the entire facet of their education. They no longer have to sit in their seats and take notes. I do not have to hope that they take good enough notes and listen well enough to garner some semblance of understanding or even knowledge of what I’m teaching. The students can collaborate to build a deeper understanding as the information is being presented. They can build presentations as they gather understanding at any time and they can even produce their own assessment tools to evaluate themselves both individually and for the whole class.
The SAMR Model
Using the SAMR Model, Google Apps would, in its most basic format, start of at the level of “Augmentation” in my classroom, but that’s not my intended target. My goal is to improve the learning experiences and have my students branch out collaboratively to the extent that they may even be able to form collaborative educational experiences with students and experts far outside the walls of my school. To this end, the potential exists for Google Apps to move into the arena of “redefinition.”
Like with the rock brochure example, I could merely have them work collaboratively as usual. But if I could coordinate a collaborative arrangement with students in a far away place (like Hawaii), the learning opportunities would increase exponentially. Also, through the use of Google Hangouts, my students could even interview experts “in the field” when visiting the experts or the experts visiting us is not possible.
Part IV – Evaluation
Google Apps is being implemented with several vital questions in mind:
- How can we all learn together?
- How can we work together to learn a concept?
- How can we build our skills for research without having to do it by ourselves?
- How can we build our understanding of learning ideas when the teacher is not available?
I am interested in leading the journey towards my students answering these questions because the world we live in is becoming more globally connected. My students will grow up having a connection with a far wider variety of people than students who preceded them. Their social skills and collaboration abilities need to be fostered and grown at a far younger age than ever before. My students also crave the ability to learn, not just from me or their classroom teacher, but also from each other. The key to finding out whether or not the process is benefitting is through assessment.
The best way that I can benefit my students through assessment is through ongoing qualitative assessment with prompt, descriptive feedback throughout the process of topic exploration. Every student project started for my coursework would be shared with me electronically so that I can track changes and observe my students’ progress through the course of the project. This would assist me, not only through formative evaluation, to gather ideas on teachable moments, concepts that need to be retaught, and even new ideas to build upon for further learning experiences.
Each Google Doc has a space for comments that do not directly alter what text has been written. Though high priced programs like Microsoft Word also has this feature, it’s not as easy to reach or manipulate. I can use this comment section to give descriptive feedback on their projects. I can utilize the chat features to hold a virtual conference if desired.
The easiest Google App to utilize in the assessment of my students would be Google Forms. Through Google Forms I can create surveys and quizzes. This application would be ideal in that I could review the scores at home or any place I had internet access. Likewise, with the scores recorded and displayed like Google Forms offers, I can quickly evaluate my own teaching as well as formulate future plans for teaching.
Finally, Google Apps would be used for self and peer evaluative purposes. I’ve found that my students work a bit harder if they play a direct role in their grades as well as grading their classmates. If I ask them to reflect upon their learning or the project they completed using a Google Form or even a Google Doc template, they could discover more about who they are as a learner and grow accordingly. Likewise, if the students themselves have a say in what’s “on the test,” then I believe they will be much more likely to actively seek the understanding I desire when I teach them a new concept or assign a new project.