Last week’s “Show and Tell” lunch focussed on uses of Google Apps to support learning and teaching and judging by the healthy attendance in the room at this busy time of the term it seems that this is a bit of a “hot topic” right now. The session focussed on examples of how Google tools are currently being used to support L&T activities, allowing time for discussion of some of the “big issues” surrounding their use.
Apps in action #1: E-Portfolio for PGCE students using Google Sites
Google Sites and Drive – presentation slides
Catherine Shawyer from the Dept of Education gave a presentation on how the PGCE program has adopted Google Sites to allow their students to record their progress throughout the course and measure themselves against and provide evidence that they have met the required professional standards for becoming a teacher. She felt that this was a significant improvement on previous portfolios which were either paper based or used a wiki which was unstable and “clunky” to use. Staff created a template that could be shared with students so that they could edit it and receive feedback form their tutors. One of the major benefit of this approach, aside from the ease of use for staff and students was the ability for students to take a copy of their portfolio away with them after leaving York so that they could continue to use it to collect evidence during the initial stages of their careers as teachers.
Sample Blank Template for e-portfolios (you will need to be logged in to a University of York Google account to access this)
Apps in action #2: Video feedback on student presentations using Google drive and Google Video
Catherine also highlighted how using Google drive to share videos of student presentations with individual students has “changed her life”. Watching a Flip camera video of yourself presenting is one of the most valuable forms of feedback you can receive to develop skills in this area, though in the past this had to be achieved through a cumbersome system of loaning out memory sticks. Now the process is simplified immeasurably as Catherine is able to immediately upload the video to her Google Drive and share the content with only the specific student who she needs to be able to see it. The fact that Google video will convert videos you upload into a web ready format and you can also embed your video onto other sites, for example the VLE, opens up a range of other possibilities.
Apps in action #3: Creative student driven projects using Google sites and Blogger
Chad Elias from the Department of History of Art talked about how his students are using Google Sites and Blogger to develop web projects for his Art and Money module. Students are encouraged to think creatively about how online media can be used to communicate with a pre-defined audience and incorporate content from a variety of different sources. Google sites provides students with a powerful platform for developing highly functional websites, while at the same time removing many of the barriers that have traditionally prevented non-technical people from engaging in web development. The fact that Google sites integrates well with other platforms, such as Twitter, Blogger, YouTube, Flickr and RSS news feeds allows students to exploit rich online resources and expand their creativity.
To support their projects, students have also received training from the E-Learning Development Team on video production and editing using YouTube’s own video editor, and image manipulation using the free online Pixlr image editor.
Apps in action #4: Live streaming of research presentations and remote participation in online seminars using Google Hangouts
Tom Smith, IT services very own “Collaborative Software Support Specialist”, (Mr Google to you and me) gave us a presentation and overview of how he has been supporting Sara Perry from Archaeology to deliver and record online seminars using Google Hangouts. This allows anything that can be captured using a simple webcam and microphone to be broadcast live, recorded and / or for others to interact with you online. This has immediate applications for delivering online seminars and meetings and for reaching wide audiences through YouTube.
The York Heritage Research Seminars website has archived recordings of some of the recent presentations (use the left hand menu to access the recordings).
Google Pros and Cons(iderations)
While their was a great deal of enthusiasm for the functionality, ubiquity and ease of use offered by Google and the Apps for education, discussion in the room highlighted some caveats for use. It seems that some of its main advantages (simplicity, openness, ) are also some of its biggest drawbacks and many felt that more work needs to be done to improve integration between Google with other platforms that are central to University business such as the VLE and SITS. Deciding on the right tool for the job will often depend on a number of factors and in many cases the ultimate solution might involve a hybrid of Google Apps and other systems such as the VLE. A quick brainstorming session, drew up the following pros and cons of using Google:
|Ease of useCross-platformSupport for collaborative working and sharing (everyone at York has a Google account allowing simple sharing of permissions)Items have direct URL’s allowing them to be lined to directlyOpen access / access can be provided to collaborators from outside the institution||No seamless integration with SITS (things like groups have to be created and maintained manually)Difficulty in reporting and access statistic collectionIssues around security; possibility of human error in setting access permissionsLoss of control over developmentMigration of content after leaving University (this was also highlighted as a “pro”|
While far from exhaustive, I feel this list provides us with a useful starter for drawing up guidance on things you might need to consider when using Google Apps to support teaching activities. I’d welcome your thoughts on this one but some of the things you should consider might include;
- Teaching record and archive – the University’s archiving policy requires that all material used for learning and teaching is kept for at least five years following the end of a course. How can you ensure that this is done if material is dissipated across multiple platforms and potentially multiple user accounts?
- User experience – will users need to sign into Google to be able to access resources? Will they know to expect this or is there the possibility that they will think their is an error?
- Manual set up and maintenance – what work will be required to set up your use of Google tools? Is it realistic to create and share resources manually with a large student cohort? Have you planned to be able to provide or remove access as people join or leave the module as it runs?
- Integration with other systems – do you need to draw information from or provide information to other University systems?
- Training requirements – while many Google apps are very intuitive and quite simple to get started with, you should think about how straight forward they are to someone who is experiencing them for the first time. IT services and the E-learning Development Team can both provide training and briefing sessions on using the apps.
- Security and access – It is often up to you to set security settings yourself. If it is important that only certain people can see your resources then make sure you get it right. If it is equally important that you can see your students’ work, then make sure they get it right.
- Assessment – if you are asking students to use Google Apps for assessed work then how will you enforce submission deadlines? It is possible to use scripting to automatically remove students’ editing rights on deadline day but this will need to be set up in advance.