Our Educational Message

Hi, and welcome to our blog. This space is designed to share ideas and methodologies that we use to teach Turkish teenagers. In particular, there is a strong focus on ICT-ELT, which means if you like visual and technological support for your style of teaching, this blog is for you. My colleague, Brentson Ramsey, has been working alongside me for three years. He is also a big proponent of the ICT-ELT Paradigm, which means he will also be posting from his own teaching perspective on the blog.

2010 was the beginning of this new journey, and although there is no definitive ICT-ELT road map available for everyone to follow, it is exciting to explore the technological means to make teaching more fun and affective for students. Our main message is for teachers to ADOPT & ADAPT the paradigm shift for their own needs, and remember that

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Google Docs #2: Ideas for the Classroom

In this second post on Google Docs, I would like to begin by asking you to imagine this situation: Let's say that these two students in the picture just to the left are your students.  One is a hard-working, nerdy-type of student, and the other is more of a middle-of-the-pack kind of student, who is completely capable of doing well, but chooses not to because he sees school as a chore.  

By a stroke of luck, these two students have been paired up together to do a homework assignment, which is to find new vocabulary items for the text they are currently working on in English class.  Both students are required to find 10 words, write out the definition and then use each of those words in a sentence in the correct context.  They could do this independently, of course, but the idea is to get them to work together and review each others' writing before submitting it to the teacher.

How should they go about completing it?  The first option would be for them to meet up somewhere after school, but this is highly unlikely.  Not only do they surely not want to be seen in public together, but also perhaps they don't live anywhere near each other.  Thus, the next logical step is to complete the assignment on the computer via Word and then e-mail the document to each other.  So, they indeed choose this route, and let's just count how many steps it takes to complete the homework:

  1. The nerdy student duly begins and finishes his part as soon as he gets home after school.
  2. He opens his e-mail, attaches the Word document and sends it to his partner.
  3. The partner, of course, is out doing other 'more important' things at the moment and might do his part when he gets home.  However, let's say that he does it.  He then has to open his e-mail and download the document.
  4. He checks the first part from his partner and then writes his own part.
  5. Next, he has to compose another e-mail, attach the new Word document and send it back.
  6. Finally, the partner, who has been patiently waiting all night, again opens his e-mail and downloads the new attachment.
  7. He then checks the entire document for any errors before turning it in to the teacher the next day.

After all of this, your students are, without doubt, totally disengaged. We take it for granted because this is the normal procedure.  However, what if there was a way to drastically reduce the number of steps and make group work truly manageable, and even somewhat enjoyable, for your students?  You can with Google Docs!

The Benefits

Google Docs is an office suite of tools similar, but not as extensive, as Microsoft Office. You can create documents, presentations, spreadsheets and forms for free.  While there may not be as many features when compared to normal office tools, Google Docs comes with its own set of benefits.  For starters, because of its location in the cloud, your documents are automatically saved and you can access them from any computer, tablet  or smartphone, 24/7.  You no longer have to transfer files from one computer to another via a USB flashdisk.  Furthermore, with Google Docs, you or your students no longer have to send e-mails back and forth to each other.  Students can simply create a Google document and share it with whomever they wish.  The person they share the document with simply clicks on the link that automatically sent to him or her and away they go.  There is no more attaching or downloading! On top of that, students can even work on the same Google Doc at the same time.  They can see what each other are writing in real time.  Now that is collaboration!

Taking Group Work to Another Level

So, how can you use Google Docs in your classroom?  There are countless ways to do so, but to begin with, I will use a classic ELT activity, Literature Circles, and I will show you how Google Docs can take it to a new level.  Literature Circles is such a famous activity in the ELT world because it focuses on autonomous task-based learning combined with the importance of teamwork.  Typically, while studying a short story or novel, a teacher places students into small groups, and then gives each student a different task.  For example, in a group of three, one student could find new vocabulary in the text; the second could write a short summary; and the last student could build a plot pyramid of the major events in the story.

So, without Google Docs, students would normally complete their assigned tasks by writing in the notebooks.  The problem with that, though, is how are they going to share their findings with each other and to have something that they can keep to study for the exam?  Secondly, how can they properly present their work to the class?  It is not really possible with traditional notebooks.  Then, you could use Microsoft Word, but then you face the problems of e-mailing and engagement loss, as mentioned above.

With Google Docs, however, Literature Circles become even simpler and more collaborative.  If all of your students have a computer, then one student in each group creates a Google Doc and shares it with the other group members.  After that, all of the group members can work on the same document in real time.  Thus, you don't have students waiting for their turn or looking over each other's shoulders.  On top of that, students are able to help each other from their own computer.  Moreover, by being able to see what each other are writing in real time, you can stress the important of peer review.  We told our students, for example, that they will all receive the same grade, so they had make sure that each part was completed and language-checked. Finally, once the assignment has been completed, it can be easily shared with you, the teacher, who can then project it for the entire class to see and critique.  

As as example, here is what one group of our students was able to produce.

The brilliant part about it is that not only is it neatly organized and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, it is just as easy for the students to complete at home as compared to the classroom.  So, if you run out of class time, you can have your students complete it at home and simply share the link with you that night or the next morning. They can just as easily work together from the comfort of their own homes as being in the classroom together.  Furthermore, they don't even need to take their school computers home with them or use a flashdisk to transfer their files.  The students can reach their Google Docs from any computer and continue right where they left off at school.

This is only one way that Google Docs can be a magnificent web tool for you! Stay tuned for the next post on Google Docs where I will show how students can make presentations with ease!

Friday, 2 November 2012

An Introduction to Google Docs

This post is going to start with one simple question, ‘What does Google mean to you?’  Over the past few days, I have asked colleagues and students alike this very same question.  While I did receive some different answers, such as Gmail and Google Chrome, the majority of the people questioned referred to Google as a tool for searching on the internet.  Granted, this was not a scientific study by any stretch of the imagination. I was just curious to see how many different kinds of answers I could get now that Google offers so many applications on the web and on our mobile phones.  Nonetheless, with an estimated 3 billion internet searches taking place on Google everyday, it is no wonder that is what it is still famous for since its inception in the late 90s.  Google, as a search engine, has simply become a part of our digital lives.  Even the verb 'to google’ is now officially recognized in the English language.

The goal of this and upcoming posts, however, is to tell you that Google is much more than just a search engine.  I would like to introduce to you a Google application that perhaps doesn’t get as much attention as its other programs, but one that is fast making headway in the field of education.  That is Google Docs.  Both teachers and students, to whom I have introduced Google Docs, have been amazed by the speed, the ease and the opportunity for increased collaboration not only between teacher and student, but also between the students themselves.  For instance, just have a quick look at what some teachers and students from the United States have to say about Google Docs...

Over the course of four posts, including this one, I would like to share some of the methods and activities that my colleague and I use in our ESL program with Google Docs.  I hope that, after reading this post, you can take something away with you and start to use Google Docs in your own classroom.  All you need to do first is sign up for a free Gmail account!


Making Lesson and Weekly Plans

When I first stumbled upon Google Docs, admittedly, my first thought was not about the students or what kind of assignments or projects they could do on it.  It was rather about how my colleague could collaborate faster and simpler when we are away from school. It may sound a bit selfish, but David and I lives miles apart, and it can be difficult trying to check each others' work. So, with that in mind, we first began using Google Docs for creating our weekly plans and essential questions.

Every weekend I make a brainstorm about the lessons and activities for the upcoming week. Indeed we have a yearly UbD plan that we follow, but as you know, things change and time needs to be readjusted from week to week. Therefore, we simply make a list of the major items we plan to teach that week. Before discovering Google Docs, the process of making the weekly plan went something like this : I made a Word document, opened up my email, attached the document to an email, and sent it to my colleague. He, in turn, opens his email, downloads the attachment, modifies the Word document as needed, then reattaches it to an email, and finally sends it back to me. In practice, it all seems pretty straightforward, but when you explain the entire process, you realize that there are way too many steps involved.

What if I told you that Google Docs can reduce these number of steps by at least half? Would you be interested? With Google Docs it goes like this: Again I make a document, but this time on Google Docs. Then, I simply share that document with my colleague, and automatically a notification is sent to him. My colleague then clicks on the link in his email box, modifies the document as needed, and that is it. All I have to do is open the document again, and all the changes made by my colleague have already been saved. 

Here is an example of a Google Document.
So what's missing? Well, with Google Docs, the major improvement is the process of attaching a document to an email and sending it has been removed. Therefore, your colleague doesn't have to download and send it back to you either. Everything is done in the cloud automatically. You see straightaway what your colleague has changed, and in fact, in one were so inclined, it is even possible to write the document at the same time with Google Docs! With whomever you share the document with, you can see what they are typing in real time!
Sharing is quick and doesn't even require sending an e-mail.

With Google Docs, even with only this one method of using it, just imagine the thousands of ways you can create, share and edit documents with your own colleagues. You could write lesson plans, draft letters to staff or parents, create worksheets for your students, make an online quiz, just to name a few. Granted, it may not have all the functions that Microsoft Word has, but all the basic functions are there. The huge benefit, however, is the time that you are certain to save and the improved teamwork between you and your colleagues!

Please stay tuned into the blog as the next blog post in this series will be about how you can use Google Docs with your students in the classroom!