Online learning communities with Google tools

Create online learning communities with Google toolsRecently I read an interesting article by Christopher Pappas, 8 Tips To Foster Knowledge Sharing Through Online Learning Communities. In the article, the writer looks at ways that online social and collaborative experiences can enhance learning outcomes and improve knowledge sharing in a corporate environment. I was inspired to look at how these strategies might be used in a K-12 environment using Google and G Suite for Education (GSfE) solutions. Of course, the same ideas can be applied to vocational and higher education environments as well. Also, many of the ideas can be implemented without having G Suite for Education (however, you will need access to G Suite for Education to use Google Classroom).

Below is a presentation giving an overview of the strategies and the corresponding Google tools. Read below for more details.

Before you start…

Before you start, you need to think about a few things with regards to your online learning communities.

  • Who will be part of the community? For example,  your class, multiple classes, the whole school, the wider community, etc. It may be that there are multiple online learning communities that are used for different purposes
  • What is the purpose of the learning community? What are you hoping your students will gain from the experience?
  • What are the terms of use? It is very important that all participants agree to and understand the community guidelines. These should be simple and clear. Look at the post Collaborating for success with Google Apps for ideas on developing a suitable framework.
  • Understand which tools are available to you and which aren’t. For excample, Google+ and Google Collections are not always made available in GSfE environments and the terms of service do not allow access to people under the age of 13.

Idea 1: Online forums and groups

Online forums and groups are not a new idea and these can be useful for students to share questions, opinions, knowledge and resources and for teachers to communicate to the whole class or smaller groups. The idea is to create a forum or discussion around a specific topic.

Google tools for forums and groups

  • Google Classroom allows for posting in the class stream. However, this can get a bit messy although the labelling and filtering feature can make it easier to find topics in the stream.
  • Google+ Communities is essentially a social media platform and allows discussions and threads. You can control who has access to a Google community. There is a search function.
  • Google Collections is a feature within Google+. It is a bit like Pinterest. However, only one person can own a collection and post new items to the collection but other users can comment on items in the collection. For more on using Google Collections, see the post 5 tips for using Google+ Collections at school.
  • YouTube allows for commenting. If you or your students upload videos and mark ‘Unlisted’, only people with the link can view them and comment on them.

Idea 2: Collaboration projects

Working on projects together with peers helps build belonging as well as developing communication and teamwork skills. The good news is many Google tools were made for collaboration!

Google tools for collaboration projects

  • Google Drive, particularly Slides and Docs. One student or the teacher creates the file and then invites the other group members to edit the file. The built in revision history feature makes it easy to see who has done what.
  • Blogger is a powerful and often overlooked tool. You can make your audience and collaborators as wide or as narrow as you like.

Idea 3: Peer-based learning teams

This is an important emerging concept, the idea of learning to learn. Peer-based learning teams encourage students to create individual learning goals and place students in teams to support each other in achieving their goals.

Google tools for peer-based learning teams

  • Google Hangouts allows students to ‘get together’ on line to provide feedback via video, audio or messaging.
  • Google Drive, particularly Docs and Slides, allows students to document their goals, progress and barriers with the comments feature enabling the peer team to provide assistance, feedback and encouragement.
  • Google+ Communities allows the peer team to create a private community to provide and ask for support and feedback.
  • Blogger allows for the creation of a blog shared only amongst the peer learning team. Students can share their learning goals and progress as well as commenting on the posts of others in the group to provide feedback.

Idea 4: Micro-learning library

Ditch the outdated text books! As students learn about a topic and become emerging experts, create a crowd sourced ‘learning library’ of resources that can be used by current and future students.

Google tools for a micro-learning library

  • Google Drive (Docs, Slides) can be a handy repository for useful links, just give students editing privileges to the file.
  • Google+ Communities is a useful way to share resources, documents, pictures, etc, providing a preview and allowing for a description. Students can search for specific information using the search feature.
  • Blogger is an easy-to-use repository for many different kinds of resources including links, written information, embedded videos and Google Drive files.
  • YouTube allows users to collaborate on playlists and create a repository of videos relevant to a particular topic. Click here to learn how to add collaborators on a YouTube playlist.
  • Google Classroom allows users to share links to the class stream, allowing the sharing of resources. If you use Google Chrome, the Share to Classroom extension makes it even easier to share a relevant webpage. Be careful of cluttering up your class stream.

Idea 5: Learner blogs

Learner blogs can help document the pathway to knowledge and skills development.  It allows the sharing of useful knowledge with peers and provide proof-of-learning. They are multi-modal, allowing students to express themselves in different ways.

Google tools for learner blogs

  • Google Sites are easy to use and allow users to easily combine text, embedded videos, images and Google Drive files. It is easy to create attractive websites but the features are limited at the time of writing.
  • Blogger is a traditional blogging platform (as the name would suggest!) You can take control of how wide the audience is (down to individual users) and allows for multimedia as well as text.

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5 tips for using Google+ Collections at school

Google+ Collections was added to the Google Apps family in May last year.  Google+ CollectioUsing Google+ Collections at school. Curate, collaborate and discuss using #GAFE. Find out more: http://googleappsaction.com/?p=263ns is a bit like Pinterest, and allows you to group posts together and share them publicly, with your circles, particular users, only yourself or, if you are using Google Apps for Education (GAfE) of Google
Apps for Business, just within your domain. As well as the browser based version, you can access Google+ Collections on your Android and iOS devices using the Google+ app.

I’ve kind of played around with it but this school year I plan to use it as an integral tool in my Community and Family Studies (CaFS) class. I’ve already started setting up boards for some topic areas and am planning how I will have students collaborate and contribute using Google+ Collections.

Here is an introductory tutorial on using Google+ Collections:

And now for some tips on using Google+ Collections within an educational environment.

1. Google+ Collections is only for ages 13+

Because it is part of the Google+ suite of products, the Google terms of service means it can only be used by students 13 years and over (unlike many of the other GAfE apps used by schools). Also, Google+ might not automatically be enabled within your GAfE environment – check with your administrator if you are not sure.

2. Think about privacy settings when you are creating Collections

Note: you cannot change the privacy settings once you create a Collection.

Be very cautious when setting privacy to ‘Public’. For example, would it be appropriate for the content to be published in the local paper? If the answer is ‘No’, think about setting the privacy to within the domain or to a particular group of users only.

Also, it’s a great opportunity to teach students about digital citizenship and responsible online behaviour by assisting them with the appropriate privacy levels.

3. Encourage communication using the comments feature

Users with access to a collection can add and respond to comments. This is a great way to encourage a dialogue about a particular topic or issue. For many students, it will have a bit of a ‘Facebook’ feel which would be familiar.

For example, in my CaFS Collection, I have added a link to the article You told us what it’s like being 15 in 2015. I love the black and white image with the article that now appears in the collection. I will ask students to discuss what they feel is similar and different in their experiences and why they think this is.

4. Using Collections as a research tool

When conducting research, students can use a private or shared collection to ‘park’ links of interest for a project. They could also reflect on the quality of the sources curated using comments and share the Collection with the teacher. Or, the assessment of the quality of sources could be crowd-sourced, with other students being able to provide comments.

5. Encourage small group collaboration

Currently, you cannot have multiple contributors to a collection the way you can in Pinterest. However, students can still collaborate on a Collection in small groups by working together on the same computer, iPad or Android tablet. One student account would need to be the owner of the Collection but other contributors could be acknowledged in the Collection tagline or even in a post in the collection (selfie time!)

Interested in exploring Collections? Here is a link to a Google Drawing template I created that you can use to create size optimised Google+ Collection covers:

https://drive.google.com/previewtemplate?id=17_WBfHZqvOkH9q2lurfN5vbAvzJp7yPkZFK4l1J5RrQ&mode=public

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