Student-centred learning environments with G Suite for Education

Like many educators around the globe, last weIdeal student learning environmentekend I had the opportunity to participate in Google’s virtual “Education on Air: It takes a teacher” conference. There were options to “attend” the event in Australia and New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the Americas. I chose the Australian event (being Australian) and it was refreshing the hear presenters speaking my “language” educationally.

However, whilst the contexts were Australian, the key messages were universal.

3 key take-aways from Education on Air

  • technology is not a cure for ineffective educational systems and poor pedagogy
  • the importance of student voice
  • balancing consistency with flexibility and meeting learner needs

Essentially it is about moving towards the ideal, learner-centred environment that combines student ownership, personalised learning, mastery based learning and positive relationships between peers and educators. The focus of the sessions was how G Suite for Education was being used by educators to help achieve this.

Below I have outlined ideas from 3 of the sessions I found most useful, along with the videos of the sessions.

Meeting the needs of 21st Century learners – Google Classrooms, Learner Agency and Universal Design for Learning

“Rather than finding a digital educational cure, [Dr. Kentaro Toyama] came to understand…technology’s ‘Law of Amplification’: technology could help education where it’s already doing well, but it does little for mediocre educational systems.”

Dr Kentaro Toyama in Time Magazine.

This session was presented by Claire Amos, Deputy Principal,  Hobsonville Point Secondary School.

This school is unique as it is a “greenfield”, planned school. Twelve months was spent on research, the designed space and pedagogy, including technology.

The mandate was rethinking what secondary education is and expecting teachers in particular to let go of their preconceptions. The key tool for their blended learning solution is G Suite for Education and, in particular, Google Classroom.

The schools approach to curriculum has 3 components:

  1. Learning hubs – “home room on steroids”. Idea of “learning coach”, the students’ “important adult” at school.
  2. Learning projects – two thirds of every Wednesday focused on long term projects. Tend to be community based – “we not me”.
  3. Learning modules – both stand alone and integrated subjects. Working with colleagues across curriculum areas.

Hobsonville Point Secondary School have kindly made available their E-Learning Best Practice Guide which is available here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SRFj3JYLUabd2pjHNSRVVRQMyAycQJCJTTZnp9o0WlI/edit

While many of us do not have the luxury of a 1-on-1 or a purpose designed school, the ideas can be implemented in most learning environments that have access to some technology.

Claire identified that, for their students, the key is a balance between consistency in delivery (students know what to expect and how to access what they need) and student voice and student choice (multiple modes of engagement and expression). Google Classroom is the tool which helps meet these needs.

Below is a video of the session.

 Xavier High School – From DER to Freedom

This session was presented by Ben ThomasTwitterg, Learning and Digital Pedagogy Coordinator, Xavier High School Albury.

(“DER” stands for “Digital Education Revolution”, a now defunct government program in Australia.)

This school’s approach was to leverage available funding and create a medium term plan to benefit the school and students with specific, measurable goals.

The school transitioned from Win PCs provided under a government funded program to Chromebooks after an extensive trial. The affordability of Chromebooks vs PCs meant they could go to a 1-to-1 environment and could update the hardware every 2 years. This means they could maximise access to G Suite tools. Because not all students have access to Internet at home, it is important that the G Suite tools were available offline on the Chromebooks.

The school’s goal was to improve literacy and numeracy using technology tools, in particular Chromebooks and G Suite for Education. Data supports that this has happened although time did not permit an explanation of exactly what technology helped achieve this.

G Suite is also used for organisation at the school, e.g., substitution lessons and teacher absences.

Below is a video of the session.

Using Google in the Student Engagement context

This session was presented by Ian Thomson, Director of IT and Timothy French, Director of Student Engagement at Amaroo School.

The school is a public school in ACT (Canberra). The school offers Years 6-10, and has 1000 students. The specific case study presented looked at the use of G Suite as part of a student welfare solution. The school has a diverse student base and needs.

The school has a  “student tech team”. This team development a Google Site as a student engagement site. The aim of the site was to provide an opportunity for students to empower themselves and access what they need for their wellbeing and education. Students designed, proto-typed, tested and refined the site. An important note is that students built it but they cannot access the data.

The advantage of using G Suite to help manage student welfare – engagement, pastoral care and behaviour is it is something students already use and are familiar with. The school is using G Suite to:

– to communicate opportunities to all students.
– reach more students.
– empower students.
– allow communication from parents.
– staff resources to help with student welfare.
– access welfare services.
– triage tool, predominately for mental health.

Some students may be more likely to engage with services through technology in the first instance.

The idea can easily be implemented in any school and personalised to fit the needs it’s students.

Below is the video to the full session.

 

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6 tips for creating student made ebooks in Google Apps

I have long been a fan of the ebook and have often created and distributed them to support my training and teachingLearning how to self-publish ebooks in Google Slides - googleappsaction.com activities. I have also at different times published and sold ebooks (look me up on the iBooks store!). Google Apps for Education makes it easy for both students and teachers to create attractive ebooks that can be shared in a number of formats.

Here are 6 tips to help you (or your class) create your first ebook using Google Apps for Education. These techniques are just as useful to anyone looking to self-publish an ebook, including general users of the free Google Drive and Google Apps for Work users.

1. Why create ebooks, anyway?

Ebooks can fulfil a number of purposes including:

  1. Creating an eportfolio of a student’s work (or a number of students’ work).
  2. Using students to ‘crowd source’ the creation of resources and text books, created for the target audience by the target audience.
  3. Can be used by students of all ability levels.
  4. Developing relevant 21st century skills.
  5. Easily show evidence of learning to a wide audience (including parents) in an environmentally friendly way.
  6. Create your own text books and resources that you can easily update and distribute.

2. What app should I use?

The app that will provide you with maximum flexibility in terms of presentation and layout is Google Slides, particularly if you are combining text and images.

This is not the perfect book publishing solution but allows for a lot of flexibility and creativity without a steep learning curve.

3. What size should my ebook be?

There is no ‘standard’ ebook size. It’s probably a good idea, though, to set-up the pages in portrait orientation and in you standard printer size, i.e., A4 or Letter depending on what part of the world you are in.

Paper sizeDimensions (cm)Dimensions (inches)
A421 x 29.78.3 x 11.7
Letter21.59 x 27.948.5 x 11

Here is a short tutorial showing you how to change the page size in Google Slides.

4. How can I make sure my ebook looks good?

Do your homework. Investigate websites, books, ebooks, posters, etc, that you like the look of and use them as inspiration for your style, fonts and layouts.

There are also lots of online tools to help you select colour schemes that look good together and even give you the hexadecimal colour code to be able to put in your colour choosers in Google Slides.

Whilst you can have multiple page layouts within your ebook (for example, 1 large picture, 1 large column text, 2 smaller pictures with 2 even columns of text, 1 smaller picture with 2 uneven columns of text, etc) use the same basic elements throughout:

  • 1 font style for page headings
  • 1 font style for subheadings
  • 1 font style for your body text
  • 3 to 5 colours for your colour scheme
  • Make sure your inside covers are blank and you have the ‘half page title‘ to make your book look authentic.

Below is a video on how to easily create page layouts for your ebook in Google Slides (note: all images used are either my own photos or public domain imaged from Pixabay):

5. What platform should I use to create my ebook?

Although you can create your ebook on mobile versions of Google Slides (e.g., iPads or Android tablets) you will get the most flexibility and creativity using the full version through Google Chrome (e.g., Windows, Linux, Mac and Chromebook).

That doesn’t mean you can’t ‘mix and match’ devices. For example, do most of your editing using a Windows computer but use the iPad version to take photos and add them straight into the pages of your ebook.

6. In what format should I distribute my ebook?

The great thing is, you don’t have to stick to just one format!

  • Share the actual Google Slides file (view only)
  • Embed the Google Slides file into a website or blog (File > Publish to the web… > Embed)
  • Save the file as a PDF to easily view on most devices and platforms (File > Download as > PDF document)

PDF results in the most attractive ebook (I don’t know why, try it for yourself and see!) and, depending on the size, can be emailed or made available to download from a website or blog.

More resources

Student-Made E-Books: A Beautiful Way to Demonstrate Learning:

http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/student-e-books/

How to Create an Ebook with Google Slides:

http://www.shakeuplearning.com/blog/how-to-create-an-ebook-with-google-slides/

Free, high quality public domain images:

https://pixabay.com/

 

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Does Google Apps for Education play nice with BYOD?

BYOD (bring your own device) is an emerging educational technology trend according to the NMC Horizon Report > 2015 K-12 Edition. BYOD initiatives open up a lot of opportunities and present some challenges. There are many reasons why a school would decide to implement a BYOD strategy and there is a considerable amount of work that is required to ensure the roll-out is successful. There is already a considerable amount of literature on BYOD best practice and case studies. Here I’ll specifically be looking at issues relating to BYOD and GAFE.

My school is yet to implement a BYOD initiative for students. Staff already utiDoes Google Apps for Education play nice with #BYOD? www.googleappsaction.comlise some of their own technology to supplement the technology made available by the school. I predict we will be looking at BYOD for students within the next 2 years. As a GAFE school, I like to experiment with different devices to see how well they work with the GAFE environment generally and Google Drive specifically. I find it works very well with:

  • Windows computers with the latest of Chrome
  • Linux computers with the latest version of Chrome
  • Apple computers with the latest version of Chrome
  • iOS devices (iPad/iPhone) with the latest version of both the operating system and the Google Drive apps
  • Android devices with the latest version of both the operating system and the Google Drive apps
  • Chromebooks (well, duh!)

Here are some stumbling blocks I have discovered with different devices (please let me know if you have a different experience with the below or have anything to add to the list):

  • Microsoft Surface tablets with Windows RT cannot have Google Chrome or Drive apps installed. You can access Google Drive through Internet Explorer but it is unreliable and can behave strangely
  • Microsoft Windows phones do not work with Google Drive. There are some third party apps but reviews indicate these are not productive
  • Android and iOS devices that cannot be upgraded can only have the last compatible Google Drive app installed. This means with these devices, at best, you can only view files, not create or edit them.
  • Google Chrome will be supported for Windows XP until the end of 2015. Do yourself a favour. If you are running a laptop with an old, unsupported version of Windows, download and install Linux Mint. I have installed it on older desktops and laptops and it has always worked beautifully with Google Chrome.

Should GAFE schools require students to have fully compatible technology? Not necessarily and it is not always realistic. There are no doubt many other issues that schools need to consider when looking at the possibility of implementing BYOD initiatives not least of all understanding what technology students can afford to provide. However, it is important to understand the limitations in order to plan accordingly.

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