Google Docs or Google Drive as it has changed it’s name to, is a suite of office tools that work via the internet and store the different files in the cloud (on the internet) rather than locally onto the computer. This has huge advantages in terms of the files are backed up automatically, can be edited on a variety of different computers (including Smart phones) and they allow multiple people to contribute or view the files.
It is the ability to allow multiple people to edit that makes Google Docs an excellent collaborative learning tool, as it is possible to set up activities where different learners are accessing and editing the same document at the same time – this means that they can see and respond to what each other is doing in real time.
An example of such an activity is one that I ran recently used at a training event as part of the Advanced Teacher Learning Coaches programme. This took me about 10 minutes to create and set up, so nice and quick, and the learning experience was far greater than doing this in a non-collaborative way. If you want to use the activity above (possibly swapping in your own websites for your particular area), click on the link above, then save a copy of this (from the file menu) – you can then alter the sharing settings to allow other people to edit it. A video showing how to do this can be found below.
Using Google Docs for collaborative activities – is a great way of working with higher order thinking skills. What I will often do is set a simple task where each person or small group of people have to edit an area within the document answering a question or questions. What I then do is ask everyone to swap areas (e.g. so they are looking at someone else’s contribution) – I can then ask a more challenging question – such as critique the other person’s responses, or present a counter argument to their point, or ask them to identify which of the points made by the first group would also be examples of….. etc. and if time allows, then I sometimes set a third question where they look at a third different set of responses and answer another challenging task or question.
Another really useful feature within Google Docs, is that you can see the revision history – so you can identify which people have contributed most (and when) – which can be useful if doing this as part of an assessed activity – and you can roll back to earlier versions of a document, so if someone does something very damaging (e.g. deleting everything, writing something defamatory, or using it to cyber bully) you can roll back to an earlier version (or restore point).
The fact that these documents will work on most if not all Smart phones makes this a really powerful, versatile and truly mobile opportunity.
Last week I was in Sheffield running a training session on ‘m-learning – it doesn’t have to be expensive to be good’ a session in which I look at the cheaper end of m-learning and in particular what we can do with equipment the learning may be owning and carrying – mainly the mobile phone. Most of the audience were FE based, but there were 2 from schools in Sheffield, who were serioulsy thinking about changing their stance on mobile phones (and lifting the ban), and they were very open about the ideas that I was presenting, and realised that the benefits outweighed the problems.
I finished the training afternoon with a session on ‘m-learning – the great accessibility enabler’ looking at how mobile learning is in the main great for people with accessibility needs, and how if we look at the issues sensibly we can make a huge difference to many of our learners.
Earlier this year, I was honoured to be asked to do a keynote presentation at an m-learning event organised by JISC RSC-Eastern. Earlier in the day James Clay had opened proceedings with his keynote, and I was closing with mine – although I may be bias I think an excellent combination of presenters.
James videoed the session, which he has uploaded to his blog, which is great for me, as I can use this to reflect on my own presentation technique – for example due to the day overrunning slightly, I was slightly late starting, so was concerned that I went a bit too quick to compensate – however watching the video I realise that the pace was OK. I have also reduced the number of uhms from my presentation style (which used to be prevelant in my earlier days) and although I am constantly moving around – I don’t fidgit as much as I used to. I haven’t seen a video of myself presenting for over 2 years now, so this has been a really useful exercise.
Lilian Soon of xlearn is superb when it comes to using mobile phones with learners, and one technique that she has developed is creating a series of small image files, which you then distribute to the learners phones, and if they flick through them in sequence they have a learning object. Lilian has created a couple of video clips showing how to do this (by using good old humble paint) and what the end product looks like.
Another possible variation of this, would be to have images that show a sequence that has to be followed as a guide, so in say plumbing, for people learning the correct order to do thigns when doing a solder joint, a pictoral guide (that they then carry round with them on their phone) could be useful to some people, until they have learnt the technique fully.
Today I am running a training session on the uses of m-learning for Abingdon and Witney College. The day is being held at Newbury Racecourse, and I am using this image (that I have taken on my phone) to show how easy it is to get an image from the phone, into Flickr and then into a blog.
I have just presented at a conference organised by sector training on the use of m-learning in the delivery of ESOL. The session focussed on ways that students mobile phones can be used to support learning, as well as podcasting, voting pads and of course my favourite tool – the wireless mouse and keyboard. Session went very well, I was concerned that the wireless network at the venue was going to let me down, as it kept dropping the signal, but luckily held up during my bit. All in all was a very good session, lots of different techniques, lots of audience interaction, and lots of good feedback from people. It looks like there is lots of confusion over funding issues within ESOL, and this is causing concerns for the teaching staff who fear for their jobs. Being aware of this, I pitched my presentation very much at things that supporting the teachers, rather than ideologies that could be interpreted as being a threat to their jobs (e.g. replacing them).