I have been using Google docs with my class for some weeks now, and I have been really astounded at how proficiently my class of 8 year olds have been using this tool.
As I have described previously, rather than wowing the children with the collaborative features of google docs from the offset (as Tom Barrett opts to do), I decided to being our work in quite a traditional way.
As we are all new to the routines of having 30 netbooks in a class I began by conceptualizing google docs to the class as the digital equivalent of what they are used to on paper. I created templates in my own docs account, which were really digital worksheets, and shared these with the class in the manner I would hand out paper worksheets. When they had finished working on them I described the sharing process using the concept of ‘handing work in’ to me.
However, despite this presentation of the tools several of the girls decided to share their work with others in the class, which was not something I had even told them was possible, let alone showed them how to do. This is something that really didn’t fit with the way I had conceptualized the tool in my presentation of it, and therefore displays a big leap in thinking and confidence with technology. It also shows a drive to share and be social even in the context of individual work which I find very interesting.
Since then quite a number of the class have started using Google Docs sharing like email to send each other messages and conduct conversations. I have not yet enabled email on our domain yet, but their drive to be social with the tools they have has found a way round that very quickly. Despite the fact that Google Docs has only every been presented as a work tool in class, this use of it is much more personal, and is something they did not feel the need to ask my permission to do. I am sure that if I had introduced Google Docs in such a way to a class of adults they would not have so spontaneously started to use it this way.This could be seen as evidence that they do not have the awareness to separate the work and personal spheres of their lives yet, but to me it shows them taking ownership of the tool and using it for their own means, something which I think is quite important for children to become truly engaged with web based learning.
Interestingly they have also decided to copy me in on many of their conversations, something they must make a conscious choice to do given the way sharing is set up. Whether they have done this seeking praise for their use of the tools, or because they see me as a mediator to their classroom discourse I am not sure, but I am glad they feel we have an open enough atmosphere that this communication would not be seen as subversive.
Whether or not you subscribe to Prensky, this is a definite display of flexible and social thinking from children who have been immersed in technology all their lives. I find the drive to use these technologies in a social way fascinating, and perhaps I was wrong to shy away from such uses in my class’ first experience of a tool which is designed around collaboration. Hopefully this social aspect is something we can tap into to enhance learning, and this is something I am very interested in following up for my MA action research.