This year is a year of changes at my school. I’ll likely be sharing others in future posts, but today I’d like to focus on one that I’m most excited about – Google Apps replacing Microsoft Office.
Beginning this Fall our incoming 6th grade students no longer all have the exactly same computer supplied and imaged by the school. Instead they are allowed to purchase and bring their own laptop computer. This means our teachers are now dealing with students who could have Macs or PC’s and a variety software and hardware configurations. We needed something that would create a common experience for any platform and Google Apps was the logical choice.
To learn more about our Bring Your Own Laptop program click this link: https://sites.google.com/site/stjohnsbyod/
- Google Apps is FREE.
- Since it works in a web browser, the user experience is the same whether your on a PC or Mac.
- Google Docs are saved automatically. There’s no need for students to save their work or try to remember WHERE they saved it. This is a BIG deal if you’ve ever worked with middle schoolers.
- Google Docs are saved “in the cloud”. If a student’s computer breaks, their work is not gone. They can get on another machine, sign-in, and have access to all their work. This eliminates “the dog ate my flash drive” and “my computer froze” or any other technical excuse they might use to get out of doing their work.
- Google Docs are “collaborative”. This opens up new possibilities for collaborative notes, documents, presentations, and projects. It also makes “turning in” assignments a simple matter of sharing your document with the teacher. No more saving, downloading, and uploading of files. It makes commenting, correcting and revising work much more efficient.
So how does Google Docs work in the classroom?
When students create a document the first thing they must do is give it a proper TITLE. The document title is analogous to putting your name, class, period, and assignment on the top of your paper. Our students are required to name their documents like this:
LastName, FirstName Subject Period Assignment
Naming documents this way allows the teacher to search and filter documents by assignment, subject, name, or class period. A teacher could filter all documents shared with them to see all submissions for a particular assignment or just the documents submitted by a particular student. If a student shares “Untitled document”, the teacher will not accept it.
When a teacher is evaluating student work, adding a comment or critique is a simple as clicking your cursor in the document or highlighting a section of text and pressing CTRL-ALT-M (the keyboard command to insert a comment). CTRL-ENTER will post the comment.
When a comment is posted, the student can see it immediately. If a student happens to have the document open while a teacher is looking at it, they will see the comment pop up on their screen. They might also see the teacher’s cursor moving through the document right on their screen indicating that the teacher is looking at their document at that very moment. As I explain this to students this might seem kinda creepy, but it’s also pretty cool.
In our old system, students submitting documents would have to upload a document to to Moodle. The teacher would have to download and save the document. Open the document. Add comments. Save the document, then upload the document back to Moodle so the student could see the comments. Instant commenting in Google Docs is a big time-saver.
This is like document insurance. As you work on and make changes to a document, Google Apps is generating a revision history. At any time you can go to FILE and SEE REVISION HISTORY to look at previous revisions of your document. So if you, or one of your collaborators accidentally deletes part of your document, you just find an earlier version of your document and restore it.
How is this helpful to you as a teacher? Think about the writing process. Now you can take a students work and use revision history to go back and see their writing process. What changes did they make? What did they add? What did they delete? Did they make the corrections you suggested?
Have you ever been part of a group project and had a bad experience because you did all the work but everyone in the group got your “A”? Now a teacher can use revision history to see not only what changes and additions were made to a document, but also WHO made them. So now the teacher can see who did the most work and who did nothing. Now those lazy people who sit back and let you do all the work will get their just reward. (It’s about time.)
Teachers as Contacts
We also recommend that students using Google Apps, add teachers to their contacts. This is something our teachers have students do at the beginning of the school year. It makes sharing a document with a teacher much simpler because they just share it and select the teacher’s name from their list of contacts. You don’t have to hope that students will type your e-mail address correctly every time.
We’re only in our 3rd week of school and already I’m hearing positive comments about how much quicker and easier it is to assess student work with Google Documents as opposed to dealing with Word and PowerPoint files uploaded to Moodle.
If you’d like additional Google Doc resources, here is the site we created to support our Google Apps training: https://sites.google.com/site/stjohnsgdocs/