Last week, with our wifi internet now working more reliably, I introduced my class to google docs.
I had originally wanted to set up google apps for education across our school domain, but as this is something we have to apply for, and possibly negotiate with the local authority about, I took the plunge and installed the free version across the domain I bought for our class website. This was a fairly straightforward process, and anyone who is technically capable of buying a domain and setting up a website should find it easy, and there are plenty of tutorials around.
Once this was done I logged in and set up a user name for every child in my class. I was going to do this for the whole of year 4, but the standard edition of google apps only allows for 50 users. Therefore, I am going to trial it and possibly set up another domain for the other class at a later date. Google make it easy to set up usernames, as you can make a spreadsheet of all the pupils names, desired usernames and passwords, and upload it as a csv file. Instructions and a video here.
I put a link to our google docs on our class website, so the pupils can just click through, log in and have access to their documents from anywhere.
In this session I had planned to get the class to log in to google docs, and complete some straightforward history work to get them used to using it.I began by introducing google docs to them and explaining they would all be given their own account. Having seen me using google docs for most of my work, including shared writing with the class on the board, some of them recognised it and were excited to have the chance to use something I obviously relied on.
As it happened, getting them all in was more difficult than I had imagined. The first problem we had was that they are not used to the exact nature of usernames, and despite me impressing upon them exactly how their usernames were formed, and the need for lowercase and no spaces, lots of them didn’t grasp this at first.
The next was passwords. Using the csv file I had set all their passwords to ‘password’, and in the google control panel I had specified that they must change their password at first login. The difficulties here were that many of them took ages to decide on a password, and then had great difficulty completing both the ‘password’ and ‘confirm’ boxes so they actually matched! In hindsight I think it would have been better to have had a previous lesson in which we discussed how to think of a password, and then collected their chosen passwords in a more low tech way (paper). I could then have input these passwords in the control panel, and much time and frustration would have been saved during the lesson.
This issue was further compounded by the need to complete two ‘captcha‘ tests. Probably shortsighted of me, but I hadn’t anticipated how difficult an 8 year old reader with limited typing skills would find these!
Eventually we got there, but with not enough time to attempt the work I had planned, so I asked them to write a short passage about anything they were interested in, and showed them how to ‘hand it in’ using the ‘sharing’ tab to share it with me. I showed them how to do this once, in a hurried way, before they went to assembly, but 21 out of the 28 present managed to share it straight away. The class are very good at following procedures on the computer!I was also able to see in realtime who had managed to hand in my work by opening our docs page on my iPhone, and quickly address any issues with those who had not.
What I found interesting was that I explained this process in terms of ‘handing in’ the work, but noticed that two of the girls had immediately decided to share their writing with each other. Looking at what they had written this was not a mistake, as they had both completed ‘My best friend’ passages about each other.
That whole process took us most of an afternoon (partly due to the ongoing battle with wifi connectivity), but I think it was worth it to get them set up with such a powerful tool. For some reason a couple of our laptops are refusing to load the google docs page, but I am hoping a reinstall of firefox will solve that. Any ideas as to why this is happening would be much appreciated.
The following day I decided to do a session on the history work I had previously planned. I set up a google doc with some instructions, and a number of facts I had copied from websites about Henry VIII. We are working on interpreting internet sources, and not just copying text they do not understand, so to see how they would get on with docs I just asked them to write these passages out in their own words, choosing the facts they thought were most important.
To get this out to them I shared the document so it could be viewed (but not edited) by anyone on the domain. I then tweeted out a link to it on our ‘4oqlinks’ twitter account, which is then fed to our class homepage (my normal method of distributing links).
I then showed the class how to click on the link to go to the doc, and save their own copy of the file to work on. Again they were proficient at this, the only problem I found was the confusion between the ‘file’ menu in firefox, and the one in docs itself. Using this method I could easily distribute differentiated work, just by tweeting different links with the name of the table group I want to access that work.
The class then completed the work, and again shared it with me. We had a few accidents where they managed to highlight and delete the examples and questions in the doc, but with a bit more experience I think they will be proficient enough for this not to happen.
One of the great advantages of google docs, as well as the easy sharing and collaboration, is the fact the class can access their documents from anywhere. I did not expect this to happen so soon, but on Saturday morning I received notifications that three members of my class had logged in and completed some completely undirected work on what they knew about Henry VIII (our current history topic). I was really pleased with this, as it shows this tool is allowing us to achieve our aim of inspiring children to take responsibility for their own learning, and follow their own interests in their school work.
In conclusion I am very pleased with what we have achieved in just two afternoons of using google docs. I can’t wait to get the children used to using this as one of their regular tools, and especially the potential for collaboration it affords. I really think it is going to be a useful tool in achieving our school aim of a negotiated curriculum.
Just waiting for google wave to be activated on our domain….