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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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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4 Google Apps tools to blend your classroom today!

Blended learning is not a new concept. It’s been around for a while. Better and more affordable softwarEasy blended learning with Google Appse solutions and improved internet access means more educational institutions are implementing blended learning solutions. Blended and elearning isn’t ‘good’ just because it is digital; it needs to meet student needs and learning goals.

Even on a budget and with limited resources, any educator can look at implementing some level of blended learning. Blended learning can help create a more individualised and flexible learning environment. Free Google Apps put blended learning solutions within everyone’s reach, whether or not you’re in a Google Apps for Education (GaFE) school. And you don’t need to be an IT expert to use them. You also don’t need to have the latest and greatest hardware and operating systems to use Google Apps.

Here I’ve collected four Google Apps that are easy for beginners to start using as part of a blended learn environment. I’ve included some ideas on how you can use them and links to resources to get you started.

But before that, maybe we should talk about…..

…what is blended learning, anyway?

1. Google Classroom

Only available as part of Google Apps for Education
Available on iOS, Android, Chromebook and full Chrome browser (Windows, Linux, Mac)

Okay, this one might be a no-brainer but no discussion about Google Apps and blended learning would be complete without including Google Classroom.

Google Classroom is described as:

…a free web-based platform…[that] makes it easy to create classes, distribute assignments, communicate, and stay organized. Teachers can quickly see who has or hasn’t completed the work, and provide direct, real-time feedback and grades right in Classroom.

https://support.google.com/edu/classroom/answer/6020279?hl=en

Google Classroom is a very strong ally in creating a blended learning environment. As well as distributing, monitoring and marking assignments, you can share resources, post a quick question to the class and view results (great for checking understanding), and create and monitor discussions. The great thing is it allows you to share any clarifying questions or comments with the whole classroom.

Once you understand the basics, Google Classroom can be a useful tool to help you implement and manage differentiation.

It is very easy to create your first class and assignment and to have students join, especially if you have your class setup in Google Groups.

Look at the post Google Classroom Goodies for more on using Google Classroom – from the basics to pro tips.

How to access Google Classroom

Log into your GAfE account.

Go to the following website:

http://classroom.google.com

2. Google Sites

Available free with any Google account, including Google Apps for Education
Editing functionality best with full Chrome browser (Windows, Linux, Mac)
View Google Sites on any device using Chrome Browser

As great as Google Classroom is, if you try and cram too much content in, it can become cluttered and unwieldy. If you want to share content, Google Sites is a great way to do it. It is easy to create a simple site even if you’ve never created a website before.

Google Sites is described as:

… a structured wiki- and Web page-creation tool… People can work together on a Site to add file attachments, information from other Google applications.

It is a great way to keep all relevant content related to a class in one place and makes it easy for students to stay up-to-date. You can easily organise different topics or modules into different ‘levels’ on your Google Site and develop it as you go. It also allows students to work at their own pace, provides opportunities for you as the teacher to include formative assessments and to easily make available extension tasks for students who need to be challenged.

As well as embedding other Google apps and YouTube videos, you can also embed other media into your Google Sites. I often include Prezis and Zaption videos, allowing me to use and curate existing content rather than having to create everything from scratch. You can also include the Google Classroom calendar on the site to help students keep track of due dates or a quiz using Google Forms.

Google Sites are also a great way for students to present evidence of learning and portfolios of work. Just like Google Drive apps, Google Sites can be collaborative.

And you don’t have to know anything about web design to use Google Sites. Try the Beginner’s guide to creating a site if you’d like some direction.

Not sure where to start? Create a page with a YouTube video and a Google Form with a few questions to check for understanding. Instant (well nearly) online mini-class!

Web design purists like to criticise the limitations and quirks of Google Sites but I have found no quicker or easier way to create websites as I need them.

How to access Google Sites

Login to your Google account.

Go to the following website:

http://sites.google.com

3. Google Slides

Available free with any Google account, including Google Apps for Education
Editing functionality best with full Chrome browser (Windows, Linux, Mac)
Apps with fewer features available for iOS and Android

Ahhhh, Google Slides. One of my (almost) daily go-tos. So versatile, so easy to use and a great way to introduce blended learning practices.

Google describes Google Slides as:

… an online presentations app that allows you to show off your work in a visual way.

Google Slides can be used as part of a blended learning solution in several ways:

Google Slides can be embedded into a website or blog (like the one above in this post). They are easy to use and easily allow the insertion of links, videos, diagrams, etc.

Google Slides is part of the Google Drive suite.

4. Google Forms

Available free with any Google account, including Google Apps for Education
Editing functionality best with full Chrome browser (Windows, Linux, Mac)
View Google Forms on any device using Chrome Browser

Google Forms offer a lot of possibilities, from the basic to the complex. The great thing is you don’t have to be a guru to get started with Google Forms which is the reason I selected it as part of my easy-to-use blended tools list.

According to Google:

You can plan events, make a survey or poll, give students a quiz, or collect other information in an easy, streamlined way with Google Forms. You can create a form from Google Drive or from an existing spreadsheet that can record the responses to your form.

Google Forms is so easy to use that you could set up your first short quiz in 5 minutes even if you’ve never used Google Forms before. Your students answer the questions and these are saved in a Google Sheet for you to review the answers. If you are part of a GAfE school, you’ll now exactly who has (and hasn’t!) taken the quiz.

Take it to the next level and add images and YouTube videos and have students answer questions based on those.

You can even create self-grading quizzes with a free add-on called Flubaroo. Another use for Google Forms is creating branched learning scenarios where students are directed to, for example, a video or link depending on their quiz responses.

However you choose to use Google Forms, part of its power is that you can quickly and easily check student understanding, apply any required intervention and keep track of progress and student development.

Of course, this would be part of a wider blended learning and assessment process.

Google Forms is part of the Google Drive suite.

So what are you waiting for? There’s no excuse to not start blending today!

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Google My Maps & Sites unite!

Google Sites and Google My Maps unite!
Google Sites make it simple to create a website. Yes, Google Sites may be a little limited but that also means it makes it easy to use. One plus is how easily Google Sites integrates with Google Drive. Google My Maps, one of the newer members of the Google Apps and Google Apps for Education (GAFE) family, is no exception.

Below is a short video tutorial showing how to embed a Google My Map from Google Drive into a Google Site.

Applications for education

Google Sites allow you to draw from different types of media and documents as well as interactive elements. Schools are using it for:

  • flipping classrooms by putting content online
  • student portfolios
  • collaboration
  • student projects
  • communication with the wider school community

Google My Maps is another way of developing the richness of Google Sites.

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