I have been on a journey (or perhaps it’s been more of a quest?) over the past year. The district in which I work, like many other districts, have been bitten by the Google bug. Therefore, they are (and have been) encouraging all teachers in the district to become Google Certified Educators. So I forged ahead to become a Google Certified Educator and to see what Google Apps might offer.
Although I was not a stranger to Gmail, the rest of the suite was relatively new at first, but I found the transition to be somewhat easier than I initially expected because I had been a fairly serious user of their Microsoft Office counterparts. After diving into the Google Apps and actively using them for several months, I decided that it was time to officially begin my training, so I headed to the Google for Education Training Center. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I found that the Training Center was user-friendly. Thankfully, Google put time and effort to develop a training center whose structure allowed individuals to self-monitor their learning and to move at their own pace. The modules, units, and lessons were organized in a way that seemed logical to me. The lesson checks and unit reviews allowed me to pre-assess (and reassess) my knowledge and skills so that I could target certain concepts or move past other ones as needed. Often the questions on each check or review were more than simple multiple choice questions, and many required application of specific apps in order to come to the correct answer. The inclusion of videos and of links to additional support articles made the training center comprehensive for an individual to learn the fundamentals of the suite of Google Apps and prepare him/her for the level one certification exam.
After using the suite for over a year, there’s a lot about the suite of Google Apps that I love (especially the real-time collaboration that they allow), but perhaps it’s because I grew up using the Microsoft Office Suite that I still favor it for doing work such as emailing, drafting documents, keeping data, and making newsletters. I will keep forging ahead though because I know that my journey with Google and maximizing collaborative learning is not at an end. (I’m working on passing my level two certification exam by the end of the summer!) Let me know about your experience with becoming a Google Certified Educator, your thoughts on using the Google Apps Suite, and how you are using Google Apps to maximize collaborative learning! I look forward to reading your thoughts and experiences. After all, I’m not done learning.
Because I’m a tech-friendly individual, colleagues often ask my thoughts on particular digital resources or ask for help finding digital resources. I always hesitate to offer a quick response. I know that many sites offer recommendations because I run across articles and lists such as this one and this one. And I do love looking at different “top picks.” But I always hesitate. I hesitate because I wonder if we are asking the right questions.
I know that a lot of administration is encouraging quick adoption of new technology, which includes devices, software, and/or apps. For example, Padlet and Today’s Meet have swept quickly into many classrooms. And although I do find value in these resources, I just don’t want to introduce and include something in the classroom just for the sake of having technology. But we have to start somewhere, right?
So before answering the question, we should hesitate at least for a moment to pose several more questions.
- What is the learning outcome? What is it that I want my students to know and be able to do?
- In what ways would using a digital resource augment, modify, or redefine the learning experience? See this article about SAMR.
- What support will the students and I need to use this resource?
- What challenges might there be to introducing or including this resource into my class?
Just putting a bunch of devices or digital resources into the hands of students (or teachers) is not suddenly going to result in better teaching and more learning. As teachers, we need to be systematic and deliberate about the choices that we make in including technology in our classrooms. We need to recognize that learning is not automatic when using a digital device or resource. Therefore, we need to make sure that we gradually release responsibility to the students and guide them. And we should include our students in the discussion. As they are exploring new technologies, we need to tap their expertise and guide them to ask the questions also. If we are to become a community of learners, we need to ask the right questions and seek the answers together. After all, we are not done learning.
So I keep thinking about Twitter and Instagram use in the classroom, especially after reading this article where a second grade teacher is using both social networking sites in her classroom. Through gradual release of responsibility, she was slowly able to move the class’s Twitter and Instragram accounts into the hands of the students.
What is most notable for me is that she held a “digital citizenship bootcamp” and a “parent social media bootcamp.” I wonder what she included in the boot camp for the students and what she said to parents. Here are some of my thoughts of what I would include in a boot camp: defining outcomes for using Twitter and Instagram (and other social networking sites); understanding cyber bullying, digital footprints, and copyright laws; and protecting privacy. This image from International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE®) really sums up my thinking.
But is a boot camp enough? As teachers, I know that we need to provide our students with explicit instruction on digital citizenship, but the instruction has to be ongoing. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, we need to ensure that our students continue to understand their responsibility as (digital) citizens. I’m sure as different situations arose that this teacher continued to navigate with her students and the parents the nuances that may exist in being a good digital citizen. And that’s what we hope when we gradually release responsibility, right? We hope that students learn how to navigate new tools in a safe environment with the support of a teacher who is facilitating the learning.
But I feel as though there are still many school districts that still block Twitter and Instagram use. I think that we are still afraid of releasing responsibility to the students (and even to teachers sometimes). There is a lot to fear, but should the fear hold us back? It didn’t hold this teacher back, and she intentionally took steps to move toward using social networking to advance learning. So I keep wondering, if we truly believe in student-centered learning, don’t we need to allow teachers and students the ability to use social networking as a tool for learning?
Let me know your thoughts. After all, I’m not done learning.