When I am asked what tools or applications I am most fond of in education technology, the first thing I will say is Google Docs (Now termed Google Drive). Google Docs have been one of the best additions to the educational technology landscape in the past ten years. A Google Doc is an intuitive application and aligns across the K-12 content areas and Common Core. It’s a tool that sheds a new light, most importantly, on the writing process, the revision and reflection process in writing, and with peer editing and collaboration. In a nutshell, Google Drive checks all of these pedagogical boxes.
Beyond the direct impact in the classroom, Google Drive enhances and simplifies classroom organization as well. In my classroom experience (9-12 English and Digital literacy), I have found Google Drive to be a good primer for introducing Web 2.0 tools as well as digital citizenship skills, collaboration skills, organizational skills, research, etc. But, when you consider what the suite of Google Drive applications can do, you start to imagine working completely in this single ecosystem. In the education community this is referred to as a learning management system, or LMS. An LMS is something schools will sometimes purchase as a way to simplify and organize their digital ecosystem. The one element I like about an LMS is that it limits confusion and simplifies content delivery and consumption. Conversely, an LMS limits options and encroaches upon teacher autonomy.
However, if your district is already using Google Apps for Education, in a sense, you already have an LMS at your disposal. GAFE offers many of the apps that are integrated into an LMS plus many third party applications integrate Google Drive. Apps such as Notability, Edmodo, and Subtext all feature seamless Google Drive integration. Setting up your initial digital workflow can happen three simple phases. Here’s how…
This is where most of the grunt work is done. When I would receive my class rosters the first thing I would do is create class groups in GMail. This would allow me to send out an email blast, or a Google Drive blast easily without having to type in all of my student’s names each time. Before the first day of class I would create a shared class folder. This folder would be set as view only and I would share it with each student. This folder is where I would distribute class materials, digital handouts, assignments, projects, etc.
During the first day of class I would begin the class by going over the digital workflow that we’d be using. This consisted of explaining what Google Drive is, what it can do, and the responsibility students had to check it. Once they had a basic understanding of how they would access classroom content, I would give them an assignment. Each student had to create a shared folder for “homework” or during class. They were to share that folder with me. This would serve as a submission folder for students. Basically, any time they had to submit work digitally, it was to be put in this folder. Students also used this folder for projects and other assignments that were doled out during the semester.
Once you set up your digital workflow, you can slowly integrate some other applications. Many teachers I’ve worked created a classroom calendar and website. The teacher maintained the calendar and several pages on the website. Additionally, teachers would either have students create their own Google Site and link out to them from the classroom site, or they would give students a page on the primary classroom site with page-level permissions. This way, students could only edit their page and not others.
And that’s it. Where you go from here is entirely up to you. These three phases are relatively simple to set up and integrate the first week of school. Plus, it puts the onus on the students to check in with class assignments, projects, etc. and provides transparency for parents or guardians to check in with classroom activity. Also, students learn how to leverage the cloud in an educational setting. These skill sets are essential at the next level and beyond.
The key component in creating a digital workflow is keep it simple. The idea that in order to engage students you need to shower them with apps and technology is a misnomer. Plus, adding too many digital avenues to a student’s plate creates more confusion than productivity.