Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Google Drive vs Apps from Apple in the Classroom

This is probably long overdue, two months overdue, as I have been meaning to blog about my experience of using Google Drive as a teaching tool... mainly for writing.

I have tried using Google Drive in all my language classes, mainly for writing purposes. I went in without anyone to guide me and it has been a journey of sorts for me.

Week 1. In my first attempt I merely asked my students to share their files with me, meaning they were owners of their documents and I was given the right to edit their documents. But it soon became clear to me that it was no way to do things as it was very difficult to keep track of all the essays which were coming in. I blogged about my first week's experience here...

Week 2... in my reading, I came across an add-on, Doctopus which was actually a script written as an add-on for Google Sheet (Google's twin to Microsoft's Excel). What Doctopus does is it enables the students to work on their assignments on my drive. This means I am the owner of their assignments until a time when I relinquish ownership into their respective Drives. Doctopus is rather like an automated assignment mailer. Everyone gets the same assignment and I can embargo the whole class's assignments for grading. Embargo is like locking their files so that no editing can be done by the students. This is great for me to set deadlines.

What I like about Google Sheet with Doctopus as an add-on is Goobric. Goobric is an Chrome Extension which adds rubric functionality to Doctopus. It is a great tool because it enables the rubric to appear as you grade the essay. I have taken a new interest in rubrics lately because of that too. You can type the marks on each section of the rubric. And with a little work added to Sheet like formulas to calculate the total and grading it, it gives a very good feedback to students (once they understand how it helps them) and me as a teacher. My only grouse is the waiting time for the rubric to appear as if you click other tabs, the rubric will disappear. That wastes quite a bit of time for me.

If I continue using Google Drive as part of my teaching tools, I will definitely be looking into making class work (essays) as part of the overall grades. There are other add-ons like autoCrat and Flubaroo which I have tried on my own but not with the class yet because I am also trying out other apps.

Now the snags... For this to work, the teacher has to be rather competent on the computer. A good understanding of how the filing system works is very important. I think for many teachers at the moment, this issue alone would probably be deterrent enough. The next thing is typing skills. Speed typing not just helps but makes a world of difference. If you are one of those two-finger typists, it is going to an uphill task to clear 40 essays on Drive.....

....which brings me to the note taking apps on the iPad. As you can see from the picture, I have quite a few of those apps. My current favourites are Notability and Inkflow. The latest addition is Notes Plus which I just bought because they had a one day sale which knocked off 90% of the price. I could't resist it and I have just spend the whole weekend trying it out.

And of course, my girl as usual became my first 'student'. The fact that the iPad is based on finger gestures is alone to make it 'superior' over Google Sheet/Doc, I feel. Hand gesture means most people should be able to use it minus the requirements like the ability to type fast or of having a good understanding of how the filing system in a drive should be organised or even the inner workings of all these mumbo-jumbo techie terms. The add-ons require more understanding too as locating certain files can be quite a challenge.

Notes Plus... I am very pleased with this app. It is a note taking app. And it does precisely that. With either your finger or stylus, you can type, write, doodle, draw... basically, you can do just about anything you can do with a paper/pencil and a pen and more. And you can keep all your work in neat little digital notebooks which you can carry with you or store them in the Cloud. Notes Plus has a built-in browser, which means you can directly capture or import PDF files into your notebooks. It also is capable of this little neat trick of transforming your handwriting into typewritten words. This is a good feature to make your work searchable. And you can always print your work of art out too if you feel the need to touch paper or hear the scratching, scribbling, swishing or rustling paper sounds.

These apps also serve as a teaching board... much better than the traditional boards. You can draw, annotate, highlight and switch among materials with great ease. And for me who run a class with two projectors, I am beginning to learn that the possibilities are actually quite endless.

The only thing I wish for now if I can have something like Doctopus/Goobric functionalities with these note taking apps. Because somehow I feel, Google Drive is still basically doing things the old way with a new twist... We are still stuck in that MSOffice way of doing work. It's an efficient way of doing things but feels a bit sterile very often.

On the iPad, the experience is dynamic. You can be more creative. You can see more colours, curvy lines... stuff which don't make your work feels like a mechanical piece. There is order but there is chaos too, which I think can be a good thing in a learning process. Cos your work has this machine feel yet at the same time, the human touch.

Gesture as opposed to the keyboard. We have the Android tablets too now... and they are catching up with the iPad... but for now, though I like what I can do with Google Doc/Sheet, I still feel apps developed for iPad (or Android based tablets) are more versatile, dynamic which allows creativity to flow more.

And how I wish our classrooms can be equipped with iPads. That will be a beginning to a paperless school.

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