Sunday, August 17, 2014

Using Google Doc In Class

It is when we get down to things that we learn what works or not and the problems that we'll encounter. Trying out Google Docs in class was an experience which was overall quite positive. With 40 over students in my biggest class, the challenge was there alright. 

Little details like making sure students don't stray and that they stay focused were my main initial concerns. But that proved to be the least of my challenges. I started my very first lesson by putting onto the screen a step-by-step instruction. With the exception very few students, getting Google doc started was not a problem. The few problems were due to my assumption that everyone would have a Gmail. Turned out, quite a few did not use Gmail. But that was mostly sorted out by the 2nd or 3rd lessons. 

What I like about Google Doc is the immediate collaboration that I could do with my students as they worked on their writing. I think I have never been able to 'communicate' with this many students in one lesson when writing is involved. It has always been a challenge to navigate a packed class and bending down to their tables to try to read and comment on their work. With Google Doc, I literally breezed in and out of the students' writings. And to make everyone more aware of each other's work, I projected the collaborations on the projector screen. The effect was quite amazing. 

Instant remarks meant I was highly involved in each student's effort. I could amend, comment, correct, provide suggestions and even leave short notes to individual students as they worked on their writing. This increases the students' abilities to respond just as quickly too. It's been two weeks and I have already seen increased involvement and interest in quite a number of my students who before this seemed more detached. I think my being able to get back to them fast has something to do with it. Somehow, I feel Google Doc makes the connection between teacher and student more real... something akin to a more personal instruction. And I think this makes process writing a walk in the park...

It is only my second week, but I feel the students seem more engaged and interested. Maybe it is the novelty of this being new. But maybe too, being able to collaborate this way makes all the difference.

On my part, one of the first things I realised on the first day was the need to have a proper nomenclature and structure for the filing system. Being digital means you can't hold them in your hands and I think many of us old timers might miss that familiarity. By the second week, I was receiving up to 200 emails a day from my students. I had to work things out myself so that each student's work could be filed up and recalled. I have a rudimentary system in place now. It'll get refined as I go along, I am sure. 

I think trying to carry this out might be quite daunting to many teachers at the moment due to the lack of competency and familiarity with the computers/tablets/apps/softwares. I have discovered that; efficiency, speed and a clear understanding of how Google Docs, proper structures in digital filing, feeling at home with technology and even good typing skills, all play a role in easing us into this classroom of the future. 

On another lighter note, I am now receiving emails at home from students telling me that they have done their corrections and asking whether I have any more work for them. One of the other thing I learned is this. I think many of our students are not used to the computer as a learning tool. For many, it is more for pleasure than learning. Many are still not aware that tablets are slowly changing the way we learn and we need to know how to use it to that end.

I like the idea of not having to sit at the table and mark my exercise books. I like the fact that I can now check on my students' work in between this and that... I call it stealing time. Being able to put essays 'in the cloud' means I am able to access it anytime and if you can manage it well, it means utilising your time to the maximum.

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