Google Apps

Why Google? Google is the most visited website in the world. People who access the internet immediately feel comfortable and confident accessing the Google Search facility. 

Why Google Apps? If individuals naturally use Google they are more likely to explore the range of features available to them. For me Google Apps is one of the most intuitive, innovative and accessible resources online. Due to the fact that the applications can be easily integrated with each other individuals and teams can easily communicate and collaborate in real time. 

I first started to experiment with the Google docs and Google Sites in 2009 building simple Wikis/Sites to promote Sport & Public Service celebration evenings. Although I liked using these tools personally I did not start to apply them to my teaching until Joseph Priestley College signed up for Google Apps later that academic year.

How have I used Google Apps since? The first challenge was to pilot a range of these tools across my faculty. I was teaching a Level 4 HNC Sport a Study Skills programme and felt this would be a good place to start. Once each individual had an email account and they had managed to exchange a few emails we established a Google Site as a method of communicating beyond the classroom with a particular focus around sourcing and sharing employment opportunities. The buy in from learners was varied with some regularly posting new vacancies whilst others simply accessed the material. In addition this group used the Google docs app to collaborate on in class activities and complete paired research activities. Learners quickly realised that they could also collaborate on Google Presentations and through further experimentation they realised features such as track changes allowed them to manage versioning as well as monitor progress and contribution levels. These features was extremely beneficial for me as a practitioner as this evidence supported assessment and verification processes.

Another group of IT students were also experimenting with a PGCE student teacher to identify how Google Apps could benefit them. One of the highlights of this project was sharing an assignment brief and associated planning document. Individuals were able to share useful websites, journals and other articles that would support each other to achieve.

The next stage was to consider the benefits of docs and spreadsheets to support administration activities. Both had massive benefits over desktop packages in terms of collating information, for instance when gathering contributions from across College around learning space development one document allowed many individuals and teams to contribute. Previously this would have been an exchange of emails which then required administration time to collate. Secondly the Google Forms feature allows for simple online forms to capture data that can be stored in spreadsheet format with a few clicks of the mouse. Online surveys and data capture mechanisms were introduced such as one to support the positive discipline policy. From this data a colourful report could be produced with ease to demonstrate impact.

One project I was involved in was in collaboration with Shipley College entitled Google Apps et al – this project explored Google Apps as an alternative VLE.

Looking at Google Forms from a curriculum perspective was probably the most interesting pilot activity. I realised that forms could be structured and used as methods of assessment. This could include simple checks of learning or a formative quiz, or a comprehensive assessment requiring a written response. Depending on the requirement of the assessment you could also utilise the functionality of the spreadsheet and apply formula to the responses as a secondary validation. It was also possible to add a scoring system to gauge a percentage result. This was very powerful stuff in particular as you could obtain live data reports from the submitted answers, convert them in to a data set and then publish via Google Sites in almost real time. In short this would allow live learner progress tracking, and instant feedback that could be projected on to a screen. I wonder if Ofsted would like this approach?

As previously mentioned the integration of the Google Apps suite allows for novice users to create truly engaging learning resources. I attempted to produce a unit of study for Sustainable Construction at Level 2. https://sites.google.com/site/unit3sustainability/ This demonstrates the potential for the development of a learning experience that caters for all learning styles, accessibility outside the classroom, online assessment, embedded multimedia and interactive games, blog posts, extension and revision activities……

Control or not? As with most educational providers there is a fine line between creativity and innovation and our duty to safeguard our learners. I would recommend setting up a Google Domain as this allows more control from a provider perspective however this could restrict creativity and innovation unless properly managed. Oh and by the way you must use Google CHROME to maximise the potential of these tools.  

What next? I am still searching for a Microsoft alternative and although SkyDrive offers an interface almost identical to the desktop Office version there is nothing anywhere as exciting that I can see. The latest pilot I am involved in is the utilisation of GoogleDrive and Google Chrome on Mobile Devices.

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