Monday, January 4, 2016

5 Reasons You Should Sign up for Google Apps for Education

Cross-Posted from ImagineEasy.

Rolland Chidiac is a Google Certified Innovator from Waterloo, Canada. He is currently teaching at Sir Edgar Bauer Catholic Elementary School (Waterloo Catholic District School Board). Connect with Rolland on Google + and Twitter

It feels like it was just yesterday that I introduced Google Apps for Education (GAFE, the full suite of free productivity tools) to my students. In reality, it has been about a year and a half since I started integrating GAFE in my classroom. Needless to say, it has been a huge success - for my students and for myself.

Part of the fun for me revolves around documenting and sharing our learning so that others can benefit from our experiences. I recently took some time to reflect on what I consider to be the major benefits of using GAFE with students, particularly primary students. Here are my top 5:


1. It's Empowering

There is nothing more exciting than taking a step back in your classroom to watch and listen to your students as they work on a given task/assignment. It is one thing to have a group of students engaged in a task but it is another to see that they are empowered. What started with engagement has moved to empowerment. The students have moved from being interested in what they are doing to using GAFE to express their interests. I first noticed this last year and thought that maybe it was an anomaly but the same thing is happening with my students this year. They have discovered that the tools allow them to express themselves in ways that they weren't aware of before using GAFE. They have quickly learned how to leverage the technology to create, collaborate, and express themselves and are doing so often. Feeling empowered is a game changer and my students are experiencing what it is like to be intrinsically motivated and to act on that motivation. 

2. Allows for Dynamic Feedback

My students are constantly sharing the work they are doing in their GAFE accounts with their friends, family, and myself. They want me (and others) to see what they are working on. They want to know what we think of their work and how they can make their work better. GAFE makes it easy for them to share their work anytime, anywhere, from almost any device and the people they have shared their work with can respond/provide feedback anytime, anywhere, from almost any device. This experience, the ability to gather feedback from whoever you want without having to hand your work over to them has been very beneficial to my students and myself. Here is a good example for you: while a student is actively working on a task in class they will provide their friends, parents, and teacher with commenting rights to their work. As they are actually working in their document, a classmate of two will jump into their work (document/drawing/slide), see what they are doing, and provide some feedback*. I might also get a chance during the day to check their work and leave a comment. I will make sure to check in again in the evening and see how they have (or have not) used my feedback and that of others to improve their work. Instead of physically handing their work to me or someone else, their work lives in one place where many people can offer suggestions for improvement. GAFE allows me to provide my students with feedback without having to take their work away from them and it allows them to gather feedback without interrupting their work flow.

3. Builds Capacity around Technological Literacy & Digital Citizenship

Our society is ever changing, more so today then when I was 7 years old. GAFE is helping my students build capacity around technological literacy and digital citizenship. They are learning how to effectively use technological tools to benefit their learning and their lives. They recognize that technology and cloud computing is constantly changing and that it can offer them fun and innovative ways to learn and create artifacts that are helpful to themselves and to others. They are also becoming more aware of their digital identities - how to protect them and how to interact with others. With the ease of sharing and interaction there is a responsibility to be good people and to make the right choices. GAFE provides my students with a relatively safe experience that they can build upon as new technologies arise. Their expertise and openness leaves them primed for the future - they are ready to harness what comes next in order to be successful. 

4. Allows for Natural Collaboration

My students don't do a lot of work in isolation, they generally want to work with their classmates. When working in their GAFE accounts, on what I would deem an "individual" task, I will see them calling each other over to take a look at what they are working on and I will hear them asking for suggestions, providing ideas to each other, and I will even see them editing each others work. Then I start to hear "I'm going to share this with you so you can work together when you are at home". I have seen all my students doing this - from the shy introverts to the loud extroverts. This is when things go to the next level, their time at home. They will work on slides or documents together! I asked a few of my students about working together - why they want to work with others and why they invite others to work with them. Their response was that "it is fun...you get better ideas when others help....and...sometimes people helping know more about how to do something than I do". Wow. There are times when a student or two will be off in a corner working away on solving a problem on their own, but generally GAFE brings them together to work on tasks that I have assigned and tasks that they have initiated on their own.

5. Promotes Creativity & Innovation

Some of the things my students have created via GAFE have been mind blowing. It turns out that they had great ideas and just didn't know how to get those ideas out. For example, using the slides and drawing app they took their ideas and used the tools to bring their ideas to life. The students enjoy taking time to play around with the apps and experiment (technological literacy). Once they realize that they can do things using the technology that they couldn't do without it, they are off to the races. Combine this with the natural collaboration, dynamic feedback, and feelings of empowerment I referred to earlier and you have a recipe for innovation. Ideas start to flow more readily and students start to take more risks because they are comfortable doing so.


Like what you're hearing? Check out an EdTechTeam Summit featuring Google for Education and learn how to change your classroom and your students' learning with GAFE. Visit gafesummit.com to find a Summit near you! 



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