For quite a while now, I’ve been keen to explore some of the ways that I could train teachers to move beyond the static online portal view of e-learning (the space where files are uploaded for students to later download). A long-time advocate of Web 2.0 for its emphasis on creativity, collaboration and lateral re-thinking of traditional media, I’ve tried to promote technologies that enable collaborative
writing, incorporate social networking and ‘remix’ information all in the name of learning that is fun.
At the same time, I’ve seen many a frustrated teacher give up on Web 2.0, having to juggle usernames, forgotten passwords and third-party email addresses – leaving aside the often steep learning curbs for what is, at the end of the day, just one more technology tool. This is why I’ve been interested in the idea of how enterprise cloud-computing technologies like Google Apps for education help to create scalable Web 2.0.
Re-thinking the Word Processor
At the staff PD day that we ran last week, I looked at how teachers can get started with Google Docs, canvassing some of the possibilities for using it in the classroom and providing the tangible example of the class set of topic notes. For many teachers struggling with the concept of collaborative writing, it’s a good idea to discuss the importance of structure when setting the parameters for collaboration
on a particular document. I use the example of topic notes on a novel and asked my students to think about the headings and sub-headings that might go into the document to organize ideas effectively as new stuff gets added.
Understandably, teachers and students get quite excited by this technology!
Tackling the Big Challenge – The Online Spreadsheet
I hate to admit it, I’m a recent convert when it comes spreadsheets. For most of my life, I’ve never really thought to organize information into cells, much preferring to think and write in sentences. Perhaps most people out there agree, which also might explain why the vast majority of teachers shy away from using spreadsheets in subjects other than Maths. Still – if we stop and think about it, spreadsheets can be used to organize, process and analyze data on practically anything – the trick is just thinking about situations in which we might actually want to generate some data.
Google Docs does a good job here precisely because it shifts the whole focus away from spreadsheets by letting users generate forms which can be emailed to users, filled out and automatically populate an automatically-generated spreadsheet. Could it get much easier?! Of course, if you do know a spreadsheet trick or two, you can always impress a few friends with some simple formulae.
It was exciting to see teachers exploring this through the vehicle of the unit evaluation, a feedback tool that many schools and teachers have moonlighted with over the years. I particularly liked the
observing the collective realization that beyond creating the form and sending the email, very little work is required by teachers who want an easy and effective set of feedback on their own teaching and on a unit they have taught recently.