We live in a world where the answer to unanswerable questions is ‘Google It’. This turn of phrase is becoming about as common as technology itself. It has become so common that we don’t even think about the massive revolution that search engines have brought into our lives. However, I would suggest that many of us are not ‘Googling it’ as much as we could be. As a company, Google have made some significant steps into the education arena.
Allow me to explain the technicalities of using Google for Education in a bigger, better way. First things first, in order to start utilising some of the applications available, you will need to create a free Google Account. This will gain you access to ‘Gmail’, ‘Drive’, ‘Docs’, ‘Calendars’, ‘Maps’, ‘Youtube’, ‘Google Translate’ and other non-specifically educational apps.
Through applications like Docs (Google’s Word), Sheets (Google’s Excel) and Slides (Google’s Powerpoint), children can work on documents, data projects and presentations in a live collaborative environment. Essentially a teacher can share a piece of work (in the aforementioned formats) on Drive (the google cloud-based storage solution) that multiple children can access all at once. The participants can identify their fellow classmates as they are named at the top of the work and they are assigned a colour.
Essentially, this means that children can see each other actively adapting and editing work as they go. They can attach notes to the side of the documents as a way of communicating their points of view and on top of this they can engage in group ‘Google Hangouts’ (video chats) to enable even more back and forth! This power, means that children can work together even if they are not physically together. Of course, they can still work sitting next to each other in the classroom, but they no longer have to crowd around one device.
Following on from the above, teachers can also check in on the work as groups of children or individuals are expanding upon work. They can add their own notes to the sides of the work or directly interject by adding or highlighting areas of the written text. This kind of instant access can help teachers to understand a child’s working process. It could also allow practitioners to step in during key points of a learning progression.
Sometimes, children can get the wrong end of the stick and start exploring completely irrelevant topics. This technological advancement means that you can step in before a pupil wastes their learning time. On top of this, it enables the classroom teacher to keep a watchful eye on work rates.
Not only can the teacher assess a document as it is being worked on, they can also gain access to work when it is completed. The work is all stored and saved within ‘Drive’ and so it is easy to find and mark. Opening up a completed piece of work will still offer up all of the same editing and note-adding options that I have previously mentioned. Therefore, a teacher can leave as much commentary and pointers as they would with a red pen. They can even leave voice notes. Offering up different forms of feedback is something that Ofsted are becoming particularly hot these days.
Another very useful aspect of this collaborative workspace is a feature known as ‘Revision History’. Tapping on this icon allows a teacher to see the history of engagement with any given document. This means that you can see who has collaborated and when. Ultimately, in group projects, you can completely uncover who has contributed to the work.
The success of ongoing assessments and the power to check up on the ‘Revision History’ all stems from the fact that Google Apps automatically save all progress to its cloud-based storage. This simple fact makes a world of difference. There are no excuses. The work cannot be lost on a memory stick or eaten by a fictional pet. Constant backups mean that you can even recover work if you accidentally delete it.
Even with the best will in the world, accidents happen. Children and Teachers will genuinely forget to save work. Sometimes the computer crashes or the app freezes. You can rest assured that the auto-save within Google Docs, Sheets and Slides will save you in any of these situations.
My last point may have sparked a question in your head… How much memory does all this take up and will I fill it up? Amazingly, schools that sign up for Google Apps for Education get unlimited free storage through Drive. This cloud-based storage solution ultimately means that nothing is saved directly on your chosen piece of technology. Let’s just pause for a second and think about the implications of this. Unlimited free storage that can be accessed by a log in on any device anywhere. This means that your work is not lost if your device is broken. It also means that a child is free to expand upon their ideas without having to worry about overriding the memory of their laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Because it is cloud-based, there is no need for any worries about an internal server crashing or breaking. Many schools will question the security of this kind of storage but the fact is that files are encrypted in such a way that you are arguably more secure using a cloud-based solution.
Never in the history of ever has a piece of software managed to bring so many useful elements together in one place for free. Using a Google for Education account means that your Google apps are all intrinsically linked in an immensely useful way. Your ‘Gmail’ (emails) are linked to your ‘Calendars’ which can be connected with ‘Google Hangouts’ (video chats) that in turn could spur on a collaborative document in ‘Docs’ that prompts a presentation created on ‘Slides’ (Google’s Powerpoint) and so on and so on.
Not only are they linked, but they can all be found in one, easy to find, place. This kind of logistical advancement is powerful for teachers and learners alike. It can save time and keep the most unorganised person organised.
Believe it or not, every app that I have mentioned so far is not really specifically made for Education. Up until now, I have explained the benefits of Google Apps that are just as relevant in the Business arena. Google Classroom (as you might suspect from its title) is purely made with education in mind. The app allows children to join classes which essentially gains child access to a Facebook-style wall platform where projects can be set and learning interactions can be made. It looks and feels like a social network site for a good reason. It means that children and teachers will instantly understand how to use it.
The social learning environment is a great place to bring all of the different Google Apps for Education together. You can post things directly from ‘Drive’, ‘Docs’, ‘Sheets’ and ‘Slides’ to the Google Classroom wall along with invites to ‘Google Hangouts’ or ‘Groups’. A teacher can set objectives and provide all of the learning resources that a class might need in this hugely interactive platform. What's more, the teacher can prepare all of this before inviting a single student into their class.
Following on from my last pointer, Google Classroom and other aspects of the apps can offer new ways of learning. The apps themselves can bring logistical and organisational changes to a modern-day classroom but it can also bring innovative teaching approaches. For example, ‘Google Hangouts’ can enable fifteen different locations to be involved in one group chat at once. Therefore, with a fair bit of leg work, a teacher could offer their students the opportunity of debating an issue with children all over the world.
This same idea could open the classroom door to professionals in their workplaces or lecturers in their universities. The ability to share screens and post live comments during a ‘Google Hangouts’ means that it is not too much of a stretch to teach an entire lesson on the platform. Whilst there is an argument that live teaching experiences are immensely important, I can also see how this kind of learning experience might be beneficial for some. There are many children that don’t feel comfortable to ask questions or present their ideas in front of a class. Engaging in this kind of teaching and learning environment may provide the perfect platform for those children to share their ideas through posting comments.
It almost sounds too good to be true! I can assure you that this isn’t the case. It’s better than just ‘good’ and it is honestly true. Allow me to dwell on the issue of honesty for a moment. Many teachers may question the security of the information being stored, shared and saved on a Google infrastructure. It’s no secret that Google shares internet searches and so on with advertisers within the commercial market. Rest assured… The Google Apps for Education is not within that same remit. Any education information associated with an Education Apps login is completely secure. The data is not even accessible by Google. There really are no worries at all. I can’t think of a single reason why a school wouldn’t embed this suite of apps into their day-to-day teaching and learning structure. The fact is that you can use these tools in conjunction with any other apps that you already use. A school can have its cake and eat it. I can’t recommend it enough. It really does bring a whole new meaning to the term ‘Google It’.
Nick Acton is a Trainer Specialist at JTRS as well as being a part-time Computing and Music teacher. Through the creation of bespoke training, Nick specialises in empowering educators so they can embed technologies into their day-to-day classroom practice.
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