Thursday, 22 October 2009

My Google day

It's just occurred to me how seldom I use hard drives or even USBs these days. Google Documents provide a perfectly acceptable alternative to Word for all the word processing type of things I need, like handouts, instructions, notes etc. and students are now happy to save their work in the same way, sharing it with me which makes giving them feedback and correcting things so much simpler. My son shares a folder called 'homework' with me which I don't look at as often as I should but it's there if ever he's stuck with something, wherever I am.

I use Google presentations to display quick mini slide shows on either students' VLE pages or course pages I publish elsewhere. They love them and one or two have started doing their own presentations that way too. It will be a while before the majority do, as instant pretty designs are thin on the ground and layout controls still a bit basic. For simply getting a message across, though, rather than creating something along the lines of a Hollywood movie, the application's great.

Google spreadsheets found their way to my heart as soon as they came out, what seems many years ago now, saving all those problems when you wanted to share data with lots of people and maintain an up-to-date record of your and their amendments. Everyone should use these, I reckon. Just so sensible.

Today I needed to update some records and provide colleagues with some data which was so straightforward. Really, really cool, though, was when it came to collecting students' opinions, targets and the like during tutorial sessions.

The official College method is to download and print about 8 pieces of paper Word documents (in regulation Arial 11 and various boxes outlined in black). then you trot down to the Library and photocopy them 40 times. Well, no you can't do that becuase you're restricted to 20 at a time so you do it twice. Sometime through this process a ream of A4 needs to be added to the tray, of course, but you eventually walk away with this massive pile of hot paper under your arm. Next you try and hide the mass of paper as you enter the classroom and slowly get the students round to the idea that they have to write in the boxes with black lines and tick other boxes, not forgetting, of course, to write their name and a whole load of data we already have on file. To do this they need pens which is often another problem but I'll skip that now. Finally, if you're lucky, the forms come back in grumpily and the comments are about as short as they can make them as they just hate writing these days. Forget trtying to analyse the data. It's a mess anyway and you just stuff the forms in their files and hope they haven't set themselves too silly a target or said anything disastrous about you or a colleague.

Being the rebel that I am, though, I thought there must be a better way. Google Forms! Brilliant! I copied the questions onto a Google Form and selected the type of response required (short text, paragraph, tick boxes, etc) and put a link to each form on a course web page. There are some good, simple designs available which make the form a little more inviting too. Not Arial 11 so I'll be in trouble but never mind. I was a little nervous when I watched the first few students clicking the link but slowly screens around the room filled with my new creations and I was amazed at how little objection exactly the same questions raised. Within a short sapce of time I could open my copy and see who had responded and review comments.

Nicest of all were simple charts illustrating things where choices were available so I could instantly see which type of assessment was proving the most popular, for instance, or what proportion of the class felt they needed to improve their time-keeping or whatever.

Later in the day someone wanted some text from a novel which Google Books found smartly for them and no doubt Google Mail and Google itself got in on the act too. I showed another class what Google Chrome's nice new designs looked like but no-one could use the browser at College as they're locked in to IE8. Still, something to do at home, maybe.

Oh, nearly forgot, to show my last class some of last year's students' work I used the blogs they had created with posts for each task and images uploaded with Google Picasa and more of those mini presentations. That was a Level 1 class too - far more impressive portfolios that many of the Level 3 bundles of grey Word documents in Times New Roman I had.

So, unless I've missed something, I don't think I saved anything or carried anything around at all. Remarkable. I'll still be in trouble for the Arial 11 omission, though, and not having piles of standard documents in their folders. Pity. Nice day, though, for all that. One day I'll be appreciated.

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