Thursday, October 11, 2012

Give Google Docs a Whirl...You'll Be Impressed!

When Google Apps for Education was launched in the School District of Waukesha, the tagline was a critical question -- "How do you Google?

Every day our Instructional Tech Coordinator team is having conversations with teachers who are providing answers to that question.  The Google Apps suite of tools is probably one of most diversely used set of tools launched in our district.  It is a tribute to both the adaptability and simplicity of using these powerful tools.

So, what are people actually doing with them?  

Today I had the great fortune of co-teaching with a high school Business Department teacher who is utilizing Google Drive for assignment collection.  It doesn't stop there, though.  Today she launched her students into the world of collaborative writing/commenting/editing that Google Docs makes available. If you've never seen this feature, it's worth your investigation.  Students write and then share that document with peers (as well as others, including teachers).  Those peers can contribute to the document, can edit the document, or can create comments on the document.  It has all the benefits of peer editing, with a traceable trail of comments, a revision history, and a timestamp.  What a powerful way to teach the value of revision within the writing process.  This made possible by employing some of the basic features of Google Apps.

Yesterday I sat with a teacher who said plainly, "Google Apps and Docs is just awesome!"  His team of teachers is utilizing Google Sites to have students create and maintain a digital portfolio.  This portfolio is the summative assessment of the key learning targets in this class.  The "artifacts" that students are placing in these portfolios are documents and presentations that students create using Google Docs, post online via that Google Docs platform, and link to their Google Site portfolio.  Not only are these portfolios useful ways to assess student learning, but the versatility of a Google Site allows for student reflection of their growth over time (not just weeks, months, but possibly even years).    These teachers envision a day when a single portfolio for each student travels with them throughout their academic career, serves them in all of their coursework, and can even transfer to meaningful uses beyond high school (including applying for colleges and scholarships, gaining access to career training programs, and possibly even sharing the portfolio with a potential employer).  This made possible by a team of teachers employing the flexibility of Google Sites with their own creativity and ingenuity in designing a meaningful summative assessment for students.

This morning I sat with an elementary teacher working to find an easily utilized and updated communication platform for a team of professionals that wrap support around a student, but who do not have the opportunity to converse regularly.  It's important for each person to know what is going on with the other members of the team to provide the best support for the student, and it's critical that the information about this student remains confidential.  Enter the blog platform offered by Blogger.  The platform is designed for ease of use, even by people who don't have access to "professional development" resources to teach them to use Blogger.  It is also flexible and secure to suit a wide variety of needs.  Once again, an extension of the Google Apps suite of tools, Blogger, makes communication and connection related to student support a possibility.

If you haven't dabbled in the Google apps platform since it's launch it Waukesha, we strongly encourage you to take a first step.  Start small.  Create a collaborative Google Doc with your closest colleague and sit together to see how sharing and collaborative commenting/editing works.  Set up a YouTube account (with your district-provided Google account) and subscribe to some "channels" that you can share with your students or colleagues.  Start following a blog or two using Google Reader.  Set up your own private blog using Blogger (again, use your district-provided Google account to log in) and experiment with the possibilities.

Join the fun of putting these tools to the test for professional uses and for use with students.  Colleagues all around are answering the question, and now the question is being posed to you -- "How do you Google?"