Some thoughts on a developing workflow – Google #Classroom and #GAFE

Some thoughts on a developing workflow – Google #Classroom and #GAFE

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It is nearly the end of my first term at my new school and Google Classroom and other apps are fully embedded in my subject for years 7 – 13. I thought it was a good time to reflect on some of the successes and issues still to be resolved in my workflow using Google Apps for Education.

Keeping in touch

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Given the large number of students I teach and the fact I’m usually split across two campuses each day it’s important that I’m easily reachable by students if they need to ask a question about class or homework. Younger year groups are, I’ve found, much happier to communicate by public or private Classroom comment whereas older students still prefer face-to-face communication. Perhaps this is linked to the KS3 work on Digital Citizenship this term.

I found that successful communication relies not only on the teacher and student checking their email regularly but also directed use of notifications within Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, etc. For example I wondered why students did not respond when I shared PDF files of their commented class tests and, of course, it is because they do not check their Google Drive regularly for updated content. After discussing this with my senior students we decided to try a “notifications” Google Doc where I could post a message linking to a new file. I realise I could post a message on Google Classroom but this would (a) not be specific to the student and (b) fill the timeline. It’s a real shame Google Docs does not allow posting of comments onto non-Google Apps files but I might have to check out this documentation to see if I can write a script to send out notifications in future.

Note that I am not using email directly, but instead relying on notifications that students receive via email. This allows me to keep track of the feedback given in the student document. If I can’t comment directly in the document I use Notability to annotate and then share the file back to the student via Google Drive.

I’m happy with the return functionality in Google Classroom as it allows me to communicate the grade and any feedback to my students however students are still having an issue with Turn In / Hand In – instead alternating between this and Sharing the document with the class teacher. I’m testing out a mechanism where the homework is contained within a Google Form and successful completion of the form (as long as you set it so it cannot be edited once complete) forces Classroom to mark the assignment as complete.

Sharing class tasks

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I love using Classroom as a way of keeping student submissions together but wish I could hide a post from the timeline or mark it as reviewed. My standard is to mark all homework tasks as “Homework x: …” so that students can differentiate between what is due to be submitted from home and what is to be accessed and completed in class. I also would like to be able to override a student Turn In status if they have not completed the task or, if they hand it in using a different mechanism, change the status for them.

I’m also developing the way students access information related to their class task. Initially I used Google Classroom to store all files associated with the task but – and this might be due to slow Internet connections – the assignment task does not always display all files linked with it. Over the weekend I created some assignments in Google Slides and have embedded a link to the information sheet into the slideshow, just to see if this makes any difference.

Recently due to days out of school I have left printed copies of work for some students. These are later digitised using a photocopier that scans to PDF before emailing the documents to me. I would like to further automate this process to move the documents from my email into a specific folder in Google Drive for marking.

Organising feedback

I work on a no paper system wherever possible and this includes providing students with feedback. It is not practical given the number of workbooks I would have to move between campuses. Marking paper submissions on location is near impossible given the tight transit times between classes.

When students fill in Google Forms they have the option to have a copy of their responses sent to them. However this doesn’t include any feedback from the class teacher. My aim is to work on a mechanism to automatically convert Google Form submissions to individual Google Docs so that I can provide feedback back to the students and use the direct notification process (+emailaddress) to highlight this to them.

I would also like to know that students have taken the time to regularly reflect on the feedback given from all tasks. At the moment I’m speaking to students in class about their work in general based upon my observations of their homework, classwork or assessment tasks but would like to be able to have more information from the student in advance of these discussions without having to create separate Google Forms for each task.

This reflection journal would be updated by the student after receiving feedback from the teacher. They would include a link to any reference document e.g. homework or class test, a summary of the feedback given, and their reflections on what can be done in order to improve. I’d also like to be able to access these files from a central list – perhaps a Google Sheet – which can detect and colour code journals which have been updated since the last time I accessed the list.

I’d welcome any comments on the above workflow or clever suggestions of scripts or plugins that would simplify any of the processes!

Why teaching ICT cannot be abandoned

By Photos public domain.com [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As Russel Tarr’s recent response to a high-profile attack on his methods of teaching the history of the Weimar Republic (1918-33) gathers deservedly increasing views across the Internet, other parts of Michael Gove’s “Mr. Men” speech align with my concerns about the move away from teaching of ICT in schools and its replacement with (the far more high-brow sounding) Computing Science.

“As long as there are people in education making excuses for failure, cursing future generations with a culture of low expectations, denying children access to the best that has been thought and written, because Nemo and the Mister Men are more relevant, the battle needs to be joined.” (Michael Gove, 2013)

Contrast with one of the recommendations from the Next Gen. report mentioned by Michael Gove:

“Recommendation 3: Use video games and visual effects at school to draw greater numbers of young
people into STEM and computer science.” (Next Gen., Ian Livingstone & Alex Hope, 2011)

The draw of the shiny and new! As scenarios go I would far rather create video games or animations related to Finding Nemo or the Mr. Men than Of Mice and Men and Henry V and I’m pretty sure my students would too, given the choice. Seriously though, creating video games and visual effects using industry-standard software applications requires advanced problem solving skills, application of mathematics and physics and understanding of how a computer system can turn instructions into actions on the screen. It also involves management skills, teamwork, design and creativity. My concern is that a large number of schools are using the headline “games design”, “app design” or “computer animation” to try and reverse declining numbers taking the subject, then use the same teaching methods as they did with package skills…

“What has been wrong with education and IT is that it has been very much focused on the clerical aspect of IT – Microsoft Word, Powerpoint – and that has gone into every remit of the curriculum. It is about giving students access and inspiration so when they go into the wider world of work they are part of the technological advances of the country.” (Depute Principal of St Matthew Academy, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16186705)

“It was a boring set of documents that encouraged boring teaching of boring tasks in a field which should be one of the most exciting in education. The ICT curriculum we inherited was a tedious run-through the use of applications which were becoming obsolete even as the curriculum was being written.” (Michael Gove again, 2013)

But look at this: Lucasfilm want Interns! A quick glance at the essential and desired skills required for a role in Singapore – riding high in a recent index of cognitive skills and educational attainment – the  show a need for:

Education, Experience and Skills:

  • Interest in film production, digital games and media arts preferred
  • Workplace professionalism
  • Multitasking skills – Working on multiple projects with strict deadlines
  • Ability to work well in a multi-cultural team environment with diverse personalities
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Computer skills: Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook. FileMaker Pro experience a plus.

So an interest in digital media would be desired but most important are: social skills, time management, presentation skills and ICT skills to aid communication (wouldn’t that be classed as clerical skills?). The only other nod to multimedia computing on the page is a request to “link to your online/downloadable reel or portfolio (if you have these)”. Yes this is just one example but highlights the need for continued teaching of ICT. Perhaps just in a different way?

As a programmer I’m glad the focus has been shifted back to using computer systems to create software or link to hardware devices such as the Raspberry Pi or Arduino but without ICT skills linked to the essential processes involved in the world of work and Higher Education, you risk creating skilled coders who are unable to apply for and retain the jobs waiting for them to fill.

“For children who have become digital natives and who speak fluent technology as an additional language, the ICT curriculum was clearly inadequate.” (more from Michael Gove, 2013)

Perhaps rigour in teaching ICT skills and ensuring that the skills they learn are relevant to the rest of the curriculum at the right time would make them more useful. I’m keen on not having ICT on the timetable as it identifies it as a unique entity – unrelated to other subjects the student encounters at school. Tracking progress at primary school and allowing individual students to follow challenging pathways which further develop their skills is tricky to plan and implement, but I think also extremely important.

Here’s why: Children are, in the main, not digital natives. They might wear the badge with honour but, without developing their understanding of what a “digital native” actually is, you may find they are wearing that badge upside down. Students may be confident enough to explore and experiment when faced with a new software application but find it very difficult to recall practical skills when the Computing department see them for around an hour each week (if you’re lucky!).

The solution mooted in Scotland a few years ago was to teach ICT in every subject and leave the programming and multimedia-specific elements to Computing Science teachers. Increased exposure to tasks which relied on students applying their ICT skills to solve problems, create reports or prepare presentations would reinforce practical skills and re-engage disaffected learners. Great idea, poorly planned and implemented due to a stunning lack of staff CPD, limited resources for using ICT in all subjects, corporate filtering and application deployment systems and push-back by subject teachers who felt they had enough to cover already without also including ICT in their remit. It is understandable: staff need to trust that the technology will work consistently enough to be able to teach their subject content. If it is unreliable and the root cause is not remedied, it will be treated as a strategy that does not provide benefit to the student – and abandoned.

The current pedagogy of how ICT lessons are delivered, assessed and reinforced must change to suit the needs of the individual learner.