Google is much, much more than just a search engine!
This statement encapsulates my learnings from the recent Google Teachers Academy (GTA). Intensive, comprehensive, fast-paced, mind-blowing, full-on … are just a few of the many words one could use to describe the GTA, which was held in Sydney on April 20 and 21, 2011. I was fortunate to be one of 54 educators from 6 countries (Australia, NZ, USA, France, Japan, Russia) chosen to be part of this amazing professional development opportunity. For the record, there are now 29 newly-crowned Google Certified Teachers (GCTs) from Australia, 12 of whom are from Victoria. This GTA event was only the second to be held outside the USA. The GTA was led by innovative “lead learners” including Dr Mark Wagner, Lisa Thumann, Kern Kelley, Wendy Gorton, Danny Silva and Dana Nguyen who each displayed a passion and enthusiasm for education and using Google tools (but not exclusively Google tools though) to enhance student learning and classroom practice.
So what is the GTA?
In short, it provides educators the opportunity to gain experience and knowledge with Google’s free tools and technologies with the aim of leveraging the tools to enhance student learning by encouraging them to be collaborators and creators of knowledge. But the GTA was much more than that! It was the experience of meeting, networking, collaborating and sharing ideas and resources from participants from across the world from vast educational roles. It was the experience of connecting with and learning from other educators that was invaluable – and you can’t buy that experience. A highlight of the day was our tour of ‘Googleland’ and the opportunity to dabble with Google’s CR-48 Chrome netboook, which is a web browser only and is not released yet, and the Android Motorola Xoom.
I cannot in this post go into great depth and detail about every aspect of GTA, but I will provide an overview and how it is pertinent to me as an educator and importantly my role as a TL. After one-and-a-half days I certainly don’t consider myself a Google tools expert (oh, hell NOOOO), but I have been reminded of its existence and gained a much greater knowledge of how they can be used to extend student learning, creativity and collaboration. Future posts will delve into greater depth into the tools as I unpack them and gain a better understanding of them.
At times during GTA I was challenged to keep up with the pace of the day and had to work hard to remain focused. The day operated on a very tight schedule and pumped us with a copious amount of information between 8.30 and 6.30pm. The day reinforced to me that my school has only touched the surface in terms of giving students access, or should I say demonstrating and encouraging the use, to the enormous suite of Google tools and applications.
Prior to the GTA I thought I knew a reasonable amount about Google tools. To be honest I never really knew much at all. I now have a good toolbox of Google tools (that I need to further read up upon and road-test) that I can take back to OLMC and share the wealth of information and knowledge with the students and teachers.
During the welcoming session by Mark Wagner I was impressed to hear Google’s mission: “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” and the GTA’s mission: “Improving teaching and learning by leveraging innovative tools”. As a Teacher Librarian (TL) these statements resonate strongly with me because it aligns very much with what I believe a 21st Century TL should be able to provide – to make information in a variety of formats accessible and useful for students and teachers and to use tools to enhance learning and teaching. Therefore hearing Google’s and GTA’s missions reinforced to me the importance for me, as a TL, to have a solid understanding and knowledge of a suite tools and applications and continue to develop my role as a technology leader in my school. Despite my ‘digital toolbox’ now containing a wealth of Google tools and applications, I believe the strength of my role as a TL lies in being knowledgeable and skilled in both Google and non-Google products and tools to ensure that I am able to deliver enhanced student learning, engagement, collaboration , collaboration and teaching practices. Google tools, like any other technology or tool used for learning, needs to be used for the right purpose and not used for the sake of it.
WHAT DID I LEARN? TOOLS of significance
1. Google Search & Research tools
As a TL the sessions relating to Google Search and Research tools transpired the most with me. Assisting and guiding students toward using effective research strategies and tools is a core role performed on a daily basis. Upon reflection many of these tools are not ‘new’ to me but were reinforced and I was reminded of their existence during the research process. For me, these sessions on Google search and research tools provided man “Ahha” moments during the GTA. Finding and locating the information you, or your students/teachers, are seeking in the most efficient amount of time and using the Google search engine more effectively were key points made during these sessions. My intention in future is to write blog posts about many of these search tools (in particular the new ones to me), but only after I have had space in this blog to my exploration and experimentation of these search tools.
- ** New to me** Google Squared (labs) – helps you quickly build a collection of facts on any specified topic from the Web in the form of squares.
- **New to me** Google Search Curriculum – lessons designed by Google Certified Teachers (GCTs) to help develop students’ web searching skills.
- **New to me** Google News’ Archive search – search and explore historical archives, especially newspapers.
- Google Readability – sort search results by readability – basic, intermediate or advanced. When undertaking a search, click on the “More search tools” on the left sidebar. Then click “Reading Level.”
- Google Wonder Wheel – visually organises and breaks down concepts into related subtopics. Click on “More search tools” on the left sidebar, then “Wonder Wheel” if it hasn’t appared.
- Related searches – find related search items when undertaking a search. Click on the “More search tools” on the left sidebar, then “Related Searches” if it hasn’t appeared.
- *New to me** Realtime search – “lets you see up-to-the-second social updates, news articles and blog posts about hot topics around the world.”
- Google Advanced Search
- Google Custom search – build your own search tool for your students based on the topic/s to be studied.
- Google Books
- Google Scholar
- Google Timeline
- Google News Timeline
- Google News
- **New to me** Alerts – receive email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your topic choice. For example, monitoring news stories on a topic or event.
- Google Blog Search
- Google Images
- **New to me** Google Image Swirl (labs) – “organizes image search results based on their visual and semantic similarities and presents them in an intuitive exploratory interface.”
- **New to me** Google Similar Images – “similar images allows you to search for images using pictures rather than words.”
- **New to me** Life Photo Archive hosted by Google – search through millions of photographs from the LIFE photo archive, dating from the 1750s to today. Many of which were never published.
2. Google Sites
- Google’s version of a wiki. It’s free easy to use (so I believe, I’ll get back to you on that one) tool for educators and/or students to create customised webpages with content with the ability to embed different media.
- Prior to GTASYD I had not really considered the use of Google Sites as the platform for class websites, as I have been quite fixed with using Wikispaces and blogs. I considered Sites as more of a website-creation tool rather than a wiki. Oops, I was wrong!
- Since GTASYD I am going to reinvent OLMC’s library webpage using Google Sites over the next few months. Upgrading the OLMC library webpage will be a great way to demonstrate to teachers and students at OLMC (and wider educational sphere) what Google Sites can do and look like and become my own exemplar website.
- But until then check out GoneGoogle, created using Google Sites, to find out how you can use this tool in your classroom or within your school.
3. Google Docs
- Before GTASYD I had totally underestimated the power and usefulness of Google Docs within the classroom and what the suite contained. The Google Docs suite of apps allows students and teachers to create, store, share and collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations. I had only heard of Google Forms (an application within Google Docs) but knew nothing of what it could do. I wished that I had more time devoted to this facet of Google Docs. Rest assured the next survey, questionnaire or quiz I create, or will help classroom teachers to create, will be devised using Google Forms. But in the meantime, Google Forms requires more learning and experimenting from my part.
4. Google Earth & Maps
- The potential uses of Google Earth and Google Maps in the classroom are HUGE. I am particularly excited at the prospect of learning more about how I can use the satellite imagery, maps, 3D terrain and 3D buildings to create a realistic virtual tours relating to areas of the OLMC curriclum. For example, I want to explore how to integrate Google Earth into English and Literature classrooms. I have enlisted the help of three keen Year 7 students and will be undertaking a Google Lit Trip with one of the Year 7 English novels. (I won’t say what novel or author just yet, as I know this novel hasn’t been shared via the Jerome Burg’s Google Lit Trip site. Future blog posts will elaborate on the success of this project. For Geography, Science, History and LOTE (French, Italian, Japanese) classes I can envisage integrating Google Earth in units of study relating to natural disasters, astronomy and space exploration and creating virtual tours of Ancient Egypt and of the three countries as part of our OLMC’s LOTE program.
5. Google Apps for Education
- Quite a bit of time was spent discussing Google Apps Education Edition (GAEE). Prior to GTASYD I had only a rudimentary understanding of GAEE through brief discussions with the Head of ICT at OLMC. For those of you who don’t know GAEE is an ad-free suite of Google web applications that includes email, website creation, video, word processing, spreadsheets, forms for surveys, group communication, IM chat, calendar sharing and collaboration that can be ‘switched on or off’ by the school adminstrators. The HUGE advantage of GAEE: only ONE LOGIN is required. This certainly requires a lot more exploration first.
Other tools the participants encountered during GTASYD were GMail, Google Mobile, Google Talk, Google Sketchup, Google Calendar, Google Groups and Blogger. For an extensive list of Google Tools from A-Z check out this site.
Where to now post GTASYD?
- Devising an Action Plan which is a project that shares with other educators ways to use Google tools for learning by students and teachers. My thinking at this stage is to concentrate on Google Search and Research tools because helping students and teachers become more effective and better researchers is a crucial role of being a teacher librarian (in addition to the myriad of TL roles). I am planning to create a series of short screencasts demonstrating the use of these Google tools within the classroom with the intended audience being classroom teachers and teacher librarians. These will be uploaded to YouTube. What do you think of this Action Plan? Remember this is my early planning and is far from developed – a blog post about this coming.
- Professional devleopment both at OLMC and wider through face-to-face workshops, presentations, webinars and unconferences. Peer coaching at OLMC (and possibly elsewhere) in the use of Google tools.
Improvements to GTA
- More time for play and reflection. I wish there was more time to delve deeper, explore and be more hands-on with the range of Google tools in order to determine how we, as educational leaders, could use these tools in our schools and share how they could be used to enhance student learning and engagement.
- Too little time devoted to the pedagogical uses of the tools. There was a huge focus, I believe, on the tools (and this was no doubt due to time restrictions) rather than on the pedagogy.
In summary, I am very fortunate to be part of GTASYD and I now join a global network of more than 600 Google Certified Teachers (GCTs) who will collaborate and connect online. Let the learning begin!
Tony Richards, aka @itmadesimple, my fellow GTASYD graduate, has produced a podcast (as part of the regular Ed Tech Crew podcast series) containing interviews and reflections from many GTA participants. Have a listen to Ed Tech Crew 158 Google Teachers Academy Sydney 2011. Enjoy!