Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Google Classroom

This is still ongoing. Friend and I have been at this for 4 months. Right at the end of last year, we were asked to go for a meeting regarding our school portal. I jumped at the opportunity as I have been trying to start my Google Classroom since it was launched. I even bought a domain name thinking that it would be sufficient. A few tens ringgit poorer later, I discovered that I could not carry it out as I did not have an education website. I did try it for a while though, learned my way around it a bit. And that was that! I left it as it was for a whole year...

At the meeting, I asked that the portal admin password be reset. And there in our hands were the keys to our Classrooms! School was already about to start by then and as soon as it did, both of us went into a frenzy of creating email ids for our students. There were hundreds to be created. But we did it in a record time, on top of other things that we had to do... new lessons for the new year, new classes, a new digital signage in the works and the usual paperwork.

It's been 4 months of running a digital classroom alongside the school prescribed one. And I have this to say... It is a great tool.

The thing I like most about Google Classroom is it has made me even more efficient. I measure efficiency by the amount of time saved in class for what I consider as 'time-wasting but necessary activities' such as copying from the board. Consider this... I was able to finish my Form 3 literature component in slightly over 2 months. And students did plenty of work on it too. Every chapter was accompanied by a video. The novel went digital and the Classroom is where I placed my digital copy for download. Questions were put up there... and I have figured out ways around the work/homework. Where Flubaroo can't work its magic, I have resorted to manoeuvring my way around with the help of the Google Form and Google Spreadsheet. I started using Doctopus together with Goobric last year and so, they made their appearance in some of my class work. Have not had much time to reacquaint myself with Socrative or Kahoot, though my friend occasionally still uses Socrative.

Sometime last month, I attended a Google Educator Group seminar, organised by the JPN. After attending it, I kinda got the impression that my friend and I are perhaps make up a very small number of teachers in country using the Classroom. And I think the reason is simple, many schools don't have their own domain on the web.

I like the Classroom for its simplicity to use. The learning curve for it is relatively manageable, as long as one has an understanding of the digital learning environment structure. Some tenacity and persistence go a long way too. And of course, having at least one other teacher who is just passionate as you about embracing change goes a very long way too!

So what do I do in my digital classroom? This is where I put most of my school work for the kids. They no longer use exercise books for their work. Some work is done in the digital realm. Other work still gets done the traditional way, with a pen and paper. So, they keep a file to keep the 'paperwork'. I have been able to cut down paper usage quite substantially. And there will be no exercise book wasted at the end of this academic year. The management files can be recycled next year. So, yeah, my classes have gone at least a third digital. Comprehension passages are printed on paper but questions are put up in Classroom. Time is saved when Flubaroo does the work for me for the objective questions.

I scanned the Sejarah textbooks for all forms 2 years ago and the Classroom is now a very good platform for me to put them up for my students to download into their phones.

Accessibility is the next problem which many will point out. My friend and I are fortunate. We are in a school where almost 100 percent of our students have at least a smartphone. And that is all we need for them to do their work and read stuff which we put up or asked. Almost all of them have access to internet connections too.

And this year too, I can claim my Nilam project to be quite authentic. All my students read the same books. And they write their own reviews. I have used materials from different sites and put up my own ebooks for them to read. And so, this year, from simple readers like those from Reading A to Z, my students read 'I Am Malala'. Next will be one of my favourite comics from childhood... Asterix!!! And all these can be put up in Classroom.

What are some of the surprises.... Somedays I would still be at school after the bell rings for dismissal. And I have had many pleasant surprises when I see work completed not even 45 minutes after the students leave the school compound. This is Gen Z. They are the social media generation. Their communicative devices are like an extension of themselves. Put your work there and it is bound to get response from most of them. Of course, the usual 'threats' of fines for work not done have something to do as well.

But generally, my experience with Classroom has been quite good. I did try Edmodo but it was too much hassle. I read up other LMS platforms. We have the VLE Frog programme too, but when the issuance of user id is not efficiently managed, very often you are left with students who cannot remember their id or not have one. And that is when, even with one left out, you cannot have that everyone in the 'same room' rule working. And it spells failure as some will be left out. With Classroom, the teacher has full control as long as he/she is made a user with some administrative rights in the school website. That is the beauty of Google Classroom.... well, at least for me.

With my iPads and AppleTVs still my main tools for instruction in class (this is the third year that I have not used the chalk board), having Google Classroom is a super added plus point. The education field is still changing. The last few years have been very exciting for me. From iPad and its many amazing apps to AppleTV for ease of projection and Google Classroom for that complete experience.... I have been more fortunate than many to be able to experiment and use them extensively in my classes.

More to come.... I hope.