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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Creative commons photo by Mark Knol on Flickr.

I’ve worked a lot with Google Docs in the past.  I’ve used it to collaborate with colleagues, formally taught educators how to use it, researched ways to incorporate it into teaching, and I’ve used it on a small scale with students.  This was my first term regularly using Google Docs on a large scale with all of my classes.  It was an interesting experience and I thought I would share some of the things that I’ve learned along the way.

I want to note that my university uses Google Apps, and all students have a Google account.

Purposes for incorporating Google Docs into my courses:

  • Help new freshman develop technology skills needed in future classes.
  • Provide students with effective collaboration tools.
  • Increase the quantity and quality of feedback I am able to give students.
  • Enhance my own organization and efficiency as I move between working in the classroom, my office, and my home.

As I went into this venture, I realized there were some other handy benefits.

  • Students who use the computer labs on campus have useful file storage right on hand.
  • Revision histories are very helpful for a variety of reasons.
  • Easily archive student examples.
  • I’ve become more efficient at grading, taking less time to provide a greater amount of feedback (I type WAY faster than I can write!).
  • My desk is cleaner, with less physical paper to shuffle.
  • My backpack is lighter, since I wasn’t carrying as many stacks of paper between school and home.

Whenever you try something new, there are some roadblocks.  Here are some of the issues I ran into:

  • Formatting problems both with GDocs itself and when uploading MS Word documents or PPT files.
  • Student complaints of “imploding” email in-boxes when I began giving feedback.  GDocs sends a separate email for each individual comment added to a paper.
  • My own email in-box imploding with GDocs notifications for every student assignment turned in.
  • Students constantly asking if I received their assignments either because they didn’t trust GDocs or their own skills with the technology.
  • Issues with students forgetting to share their assignments (one place where the revision history came in handy).
  • Not enough class time spent in the computer lab for initial instruction on how to use this and other important technology.

Here are some of the ways I approached the use of Google Docs.

Sharing – Instead of using the big blue Share button, each student created a course collection (or folder) of their class assignments that they shared with me.  I chose to use the collection route to help students better see the development of their work throughout the term.  One of my classes also includes a portfolio, and I hoped this would help make that process easier.  Using collection sharing was a problem at times, since the big Share button is so tempting to push.  When students would use the Share button instead of sharing documents into their collection, it caused organization issues.  Most of these were ironed out by the end of the term.  A handy tip for using student collections: Color code the collections for each class with a different color. Then you can quickly look through the GDocs home page to see the documents for each class.

Naming Conventions – To help both students and myself with organization, I instituted a system for naming files.  The search box in GDocs makes it very easy to type in part of the file name and get the list of student assignments that need feedback.  When students used their own file names, don’t use spaces, or abbreviate file names, it caused organization headaches for me.  Instead of quickly and easily using the search box to get assignments, I had to go through student collections or the long list of GDoc files and search for individual student assignments that were named incorrectly.  I hate being picky about such little things, but I think I need to really stress using correct file names for my own sanity.  I spent a LOT of time just searching for individual assignments at the beginning of the term.  Originally, I had students add their last name and first initial to the end of a file name.  I realized this was an unnecessary extra step since each document is already tagged with the owner’s name, so I stopped requiring students to do this.

Templates – I found in the previous term that students had issues including everything they needed in the handwritten reflections for class.  To help with this, I created a template for each reflection with a small grading/feedback chart.  The chart serves as a checklist for students, as well as a way for me to quickly organize and give more detailed feedback.  I use templates for other assignments in class as well.  I make these files so they can only be edited by me.  Students make a copy of the document and type their assignment into it.  This would sometimes cause me to receive panicked emails from students who told me GDocs wouldn’t let them type their assignments.  I just had to remind them to make a copy of the template and all was well.

To-Do List – I realized pretty quickly that I needed an easy way to handle incoming assignments.  The approach that I came up with worked pretty well for me.  I left documents “unviewed” on my Home page until I was able to provide feedback.  Once a document received feedback, I used the “Don’t Show in Home” option to move it off of my to-do list.  I could always click on “All Items” to see all of the documents I had access to.

GMail Filters – When I first started using GDocs on a large scale, I knew the deluge of email notifications had to go.  I set up a GMail filter to keep any GDoc notifications from ever hitting my inbox.  However, I chose not to set the filter up to delete them so I have a time-stamped record of submissions (I’ve been told students can tamper with submission times that show up on GDocs itself).

Some things I would like to work on in the future with Google Docs:

  • When I have an assignment that needs a more specific length requirement, I will be switching to a word count range rather than page numbers.  This will help with the formatting issues that students and I encountered this past term.
  • One of the main topics of my courses is time management.  I see potential in using the time stamps in the revision history.  Students could use this tool to be more reflective about how they use their time and they could also use it to evaluate their own writing process.
  • Use the comment feature to encourage more two-way dialogue with students.  Right now I get an occasional comment back from a student, and I see the potential of this feature as a two-way communication and revision tool.
  • I would like to use the computer lab more during class to help students learn the ins and outs of this technology.
What questions do you have about using Google Docs with students?  Do you already use GDocs and have some suggestions or thoughts you’d like to share?  Thank you!

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“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” -Mark Twain

Originally Posted January 10, 2009

As of this year, my current school has become a 1:1 or “High Access” school.  This means that every student was given a laptop and all kinds of technology is the fingertips of our students and staff.  It has been an interesting ride in my position of supporting teachers as they integrate new ideas into their classrooms.  I have seen some great implementation of creative ideas.  I strongly believe that technology is an important aspect of public education as long as we keep in mind that our content comes first and technology is a tool to teach that content.

However, a concern has begun cropping up among our staff.  We have all of these wonderful tools at our disposal, all you have to do is turn on the laptop.  But are we sacrificing kinesthetic/hands-on learning to the gods of technology?

Please understand that this concern in no way degrades the wonderful investment that has been made by my district.  I am ecstatic to have the opportunity to work in a high access environment.  I just want to make sure that we don’t abandon one of the greatest tools of learning.

One of my colleagues decided to do an informal experiment with his students.  He was curious about effect that computer notes vs. handwritten notes would have on test scores.  So he allowed students to take notes on their laptops for one test, and then required them to take handwritten notes for another test.  There was about a 20% increase in test scores for the handwritten notes.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to listen to a keynote speech by Neuroscience education consultant Kenneth Wesson and participate in a round table discussion afterwords.  I had the chance to discuss this idea of computer vs. handwritten notes with him.  He gave us the following information:

Computer Typed NotesStudents are concerned mostly with accuracy.  This is the “wrong tool for the job.”

Handwritten NotesStudents write the information in a way that works for them.  You make it your own and there is more of a personal connection (which increases understanding and recall).  He went on to state the printing is more effective than cursive.

Mr. Wesson also talked about virtual surgery computer programs vs. hands-on learning in the medical world.  He said that the hands-on learning was a much more effective way to train surgeons.

I also asked him about reading new information on a screen vs. having a tangible book in your hand.  Some of my colleagues are concerned that in the future they may be denied the funds to purchase actual books in favor of all electronic resources.  Since textbooks are such an expensive affair, some in the district believe this is a major plus of acquiring the laptops.  Mr. Wesson discussed the idea, but stated that there is not yet enough research in this area.

This is a very worthwhile discussion to be having in my building.  While we are technology focused, there is a strong element of brain based learning.  This involves movement and integrating a hands-on approach.  We are in the early stages of our large-scale computer integration and it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.  All things in moderation?

Book Recommendations by Mr. Wesson:
The New Brain: How the Modern Age is Rewiring Your Mind
by Richard Restak

Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 by Rafe Esquith

Possible Questions for Comment:

  • Is there such a thing as too much technology, or can we never have enough?
  • Do you have any experiences of technology vs. hands-on learning?
  • Is there a way to integrate technology & the kinesthetic?
  • What thoughts do you have on these ideas?

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