Monthly Archives: October 2009

Google Apps: Testing (using Google Forms), 1, 2, 3…

The Google Apps experiment continued today with my first foray into conducting tests using Google Forms. I have previously used Forms for conducting student surveys and student self-evaluations, but I knew there would be some logistical challenges in attempting to conduct a test online. One issue I anticipated was the challenge of ensuring that students weren’t attempting to communicate via Google Chat during the quiz. I attempted to address this issue by reminding students that they should not be switching between different windows during the quiz. While I cannot be certain that this didn’t take place as I circulated around the room, I don’t believe this was a major problem. In the end the biggest issue for administering a quiz online was the standard layout of the computer lab. With students working side-by-side on computers it would be fairly easy for students to see the answers on their neighbour’s monitor. While I trust the vast majority of my students I would not be surprised if a few eyes wandered during the quiz.

As for the quiz itself, I chose to start off small with a short answer quiz based on group presentations on Canada during the Victorian Era. Creating the quiz in Google Forms was a very simple process, as outlined in this video:

Once the students were done their quizzes they were incredibly easy to mark. As outlined in the video, the student responses appear in a spreadsheet immediately upon being submitted. Having these responses appear in a spreadsheet makes even the short answer questions I used easy to mark. Unfortunately, I could not figure out a way to insert a grade or any comments on to the quiz itself, so students would have to review the quiz on their own to determine which questions they answered incorrectly. I would be interested in seeing if there was a way to get around this issue.

All in all, I would say that my first attempt to use Google Forms to conduct a quiz was a success. My students seemed to enjoy the process of writing a quiz online and I found the spreadsheet results to be ideal for marking.  While the potential for students to be able to copy answers off of another classmate’s monitor is a concern, I do foresee myself using Forms for other quizzes down the road. I am open to the possibility of conducting larger tests online as well, though I would need to attempt to address these concerns beforehand.

EC&I 831 – Games in the classroom

In this week’s EC&I 831 Elluminate session with Sylvia Martinez we discussed the increasing interest in attempting to use games in the classroom. Sylvia’s presentation triggered some interesting discussions within the back channel about how educators have used gaming to support learning in their own classes. Liz Becker (AKA Ellsbeth) mentioned her use of the game “Medal of Honor” in an activity where students were given the choice of sources to assess for historical accuracy. I thought this was a unique way to teach students an incredibly valuable skill and it made me think about potential uses of games in my own classes. In Social Studies 11 we examine Canada’s involvement in World War I and World War II and my (mostly male) students frequently ask if they can play Call of Duty to learn about these topics. I had never given this idea serious thought up until our session with Sylvia, and I highly doubt the students who keep raising this idea had either. But why wouldn’t an activity similar to the idea suggested by Ellsbeth work? I’m going to have to give this idea some more thought and figure out how to balance learning through games alongside attempting to prepare my students for the final game of Trivial Pursuit, I mean final standardized Provincial Exam.

Another major theme in Sylvia’s presentation was how often educators adopt terrible “educational games” that have little or no appeal to the students they are aimed at. I was one of several class members who voiced a certain level of disdain for “educational games” based on my experiences with them in both my school and teaching careers.  I have seen countless examples of poorly designed “educational games” that cost a large sum of money to buy and go over like lead balloons when students sit down to “play” them.

While reading through my local newspaper the morning after class I stumbled upon a small article titled “Online game teaches healthy eating”. The article discussed an online game developed with the support of the B.C. Dairy Foundation that was designed to teach kids about Canada’s Food Guide and healthy eating. After reading the article’s description of the game, titled “Titanium Chef“, I thought I had found yet another example of a terrible educational game. Unfortunately, I couldn’t confirm my assumption as none of the links on the game’s site seem to work.  However, I did find some positive reviews of the game so perhaps there is some hope yet. If not, I will find some solace in the fact that the game is free to use and won’t cost schools thousands of dollars in licensing fees.

Google Apps: Short and sweet (or so I thought)…

Well, hours of time set aside to blog extensively about my experiences with the early phases of implementing Google Apps in my two Social Studies 10 classes have come and gone. Unfortunately, over an hour of that allotted time was spent attempting to get my sick 5 month old back to sleep.  When you combine this time with the hour or so I seem to spend procrastinating while suffering through “bloggers block” you have a fairly lethal amount of time well-wasted. As a result I’m going to have to post some initial observations about implementing Google Apps  in a few short bursts and hope for some feedback from my legions of fans…

Observation #1: My students dove right into their personalized Gmail accounts. They immediately went about adding their friends and classmates to their instant messenger contacts and had no complaints about only being able to add users from our Google Apps domain name. Initially students focused on using the IM tool for socializing only, but the time I found a student that was home sick communicating with me and her classmates on IM during class time in an effort to stay on top of what was happening in class was a pretty cool moment.

Observation #2: Google Sites are incredibly easy to use. I was able to set up a simple yet effective class site in a short period of time. I introduced Google Sites to my students and then let them lose with building their own personal sites. After some time spent exploring on their own I had them build their own “Socials 10” sites for our class. These sites are fairly embryonic at this point, but they’ve played around with inserting my homework calendar and inserting work they have created in Google Docs. I’m looking forward to continuing to come up with new ways for my students to use their sites as they have really embraced this idea so far.

Observation #3a: Google Docs is a great tool for collaboration, but I wish the “Revision History” tool, which allows you to compare past versions of a given document, was a bit more powerful. I have had my students collaborate by using Docs to do some group writing and some peer editing, but it would be nice if the “Revision History” tool made it easier to get an overall picture of how much individual collaborators have put in to a given document.

Observation #3b: Keeping track of all the Google Docs that students share with you can get messy in a hurry! I’m still working on creating some system for organizing incoming documents automatically. I’m also attempting to figure out how NOT to get an email every time a student shares a doc with me. Any tips regarding either of these issues?

Observation #4: I was able to create a fairly thorough student survey form relating to their use of technology using Google Forms. I intend to use this tool for gathering student feedback on our use of Google Apps as a part of my masters project research. I also plan to use it to quiz students and as a type of “exit form” to figure out what topics students do or do not understand. Shortly after using my technology survey I witnessed another teacher attempt to survey every student in our school using paper surveys. I shuddered thinking about the nightmare of compiling all of that data and was glad had Google Forms to do the dirty work for me.
Observation #5: I need to continue to search for different lesson activities that can be improved through the use of Google Apps. I think I’m barely scratching the surface of what my students can be doing using these tools. If anyone has any ideas (big or small) that they’d like to share I’ll compile them all and test them out over the next few weeks.

Well, in the end I would say that this post is neither short nor sweet, but it is a start. There is still lots to be done and I will try to do a better job staying on top of my work with Google Apps in the coming weeks.

PS: I realize I forgot a fairly important observation…

Observation #6: All the Google propaganda I have been spreading in my blog, tweeting about on Twitter and bookmarking in Delicious hasn’t gotten me a whiff of an invite to Google Wave. C’mon Google, I’m drowning in your Kool-Aid here, would it kill you to toss me an invite already?

Thoughts on educational blogging…

Although I had to slip out of this evening’s EC&I 831 session with Sue Waters a few minutes early due to overriding parental obligations, I feel the time is ripe for me to respond to the question of the day: what are my thoughts on educational blogging?

Personally, I see significant potential value in educational blogging. At this point, I have barely gotten my feet wet when it comes to immersing myself as an active participant in the “blogosphere”. I have been blogging sporadically for educational purposes for the past few months. During this time I have enjoyed the highs of writing posts that have been viewed and commented on by many intelligent and helpful people from around the world. I have also endured the lows of writing posts that have vanished into the clouds with nary a whiff of a comment.  The comments that some of my blog posts have received have varied in content, with some being largely words of encouragement and others being responses to specific questions or issues I have raised. I see both types of comments as being incredibly valuable, especially to someone as new to this world as I am.

While I see educational blogging as a useful practice for both reflection and network building, I find myself struggling with the writing process. I am not the type of person who throws together a collection of thoughts or ideas and post them for the world to see. I’m the type of person who somewhat painstakingly deliberates over the structure of every sentence I write, be it for a student handout or a term paper. Not surprisingly I feel the need to do the same thing when writing a blog post to send off for the world (well ok, 32 people in a busy week!) to see. This slow writing process makes the issue of blogging a real challenge given the many demands that eat up large chunks of my limited time. I am hopeful that with continued practice the blogging process will become easier for me as it is something I would like to continue to explore using for my own uses and potential student uses as well.