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Google+, Apps open up new collaborative learning opportunities for students

HIGHLANDS RANCH – Schools across Douglas County are beginning to take advantage of a new slate of online applications. Google and its Internet browser, Chrome, now offer a wide variety of programs, including: 

• BioDigital Human—app that offers a look inside the human body
• MindMeister and LucidCharter—online brainstorming and planning software
• Physics Sketch—allows students to explore basic engineering concepts
• WeVideo- online video creation and editing platform
The best part is that all of these free apps and more are available when you log into your Google account. 
“That’s a huge thing,” explained Director of Educational Technology Kim McMonagle. “Having everything connected to our District single user sign in is really helpful.”
When a student signs into their Google Account, not only the apps, but the work follows them from device-to-device, even their personally owned devices.
Before, you had to load applications on to each computer and it was tougher to organize student work.

“When you think about using iPads, it’s really hard for a teacher to manage. Whatever I created in iMovie, for instance is on iPad number 1. I can’t go to iPad number 10 and get my movie.” 

As McMonagle explains, it was even worse a few years ago, as demonstrated by brainstorming software that really limits the ability for students to work together.

“When we use Inspiration, software that is loaded on the hard drive, we’re stuck. You can’t collaborate because it’s in the software on my device. If we got to LucidChart, you and I can be in there at the same time co-creating our project management plan,” McMonagle said.

By far, collaboration is the biggest benefit of the new applications, especially Google+, which was unlocked for high school students late last month. 
“The fun thing is Google+, because that is all the online discussion,” said Highlands Ranch High School (HRHS) Professional Learning Specialist Donna Goodwin.
“It’s really connecting the learners and they’re exchanging resources, ideas and information in a really dynamic, visual way,” added McMonagle.
Goodwin already was using Google Docs in her classroom and loves the benefits.
“I have a paperless classroom,” said Goodwin. “I have also found, as an English teacher, that it is pretty amazing because I can have a whole group of students working on a project over a couple days and I can check in on how it is going.”
Over the summer she and other teachers took Google+ for a spin. They saw the possibilities and approached Information Technology Services about providing it to DCSD students.
“That’s a natural progression that we see with so much technology,” McMonagle said. “If you personally use it and like it, all of a sudden you start to think about how you would use it with your students.”
She says in some ways it is a lot like Pinterest. It allows for threaded conversations, in a format that includes the introduction of media.
“When you attach something, you get a visual with it. People like that. They look at the pictures and it starts a discussion,” McMonagle said.
HRHS teachers say the online discussions enabled by Google+ are not only creating a beneficial collaborative learning environment, but also preparing students by giving them a tool they can use in future.
“Students report back to me from college that they are required to do that for their classes. They’re also finding the power of a personal learning network for themselves when they’re in college. There are other people out there who are struggling with the same things and learning the same things, so they’ve found out that a personal learning network is very beneficial to them,” Goodwin said.
While there has been some interest in opening Google+ for elementary and middle schools, Google’s Terms of Use limit usage to children age 13 or older. 
Regardless of a student’s age or which tool they’re using, McMonagle says it is important for schools to teach kids how to be good digital citizens.
She says that students can make mistakes, whether they’re online or not. She encourages teachers to use the controlled digital environments in their classrooms as a training ground.
“We’d rather have safe learning spaces, where we can teach digital citizenship,” McMonagle said. “You can’t guarantee that every kid in class face-to-face won’t bully someone. We also can’t guarantee it online. What we can do is to teach how to be a good citizen, face-to-face as well as online.”
“What we like about Google is that you can turn off privileges,” she added. “You can say, ‘sorry you made that choice. For the next two weeks you don’t have Google and you’ll be doing your work in paper form. You still get to do all the assignments; you just won’t be using that digital learning space.” 

November 15, 2013 | By rmbarber | Category:

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