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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Google Docs - Learning and Collaboration in Action

In my last year at Wellington College (2011) I had the pleasure of teaching a Year 9 History class and, as the school's eLearning Director, was given plenty of freedom to explore diffent ways that eLearning tools could enhance and make learning history more relevant for the students. After only 4 weeks of regular teaching the new entrants were surprised when I told them that it was now there turn to take over.
(Note: class was mixed ability and Year 9 in New Zealand is age approx 12-13 at beginning February)

Collaboration Task Description
They were given the task, in pairs, to research and present to the class an aspect of the current topic: "Ancient Rome". Google Docs was the chosen tool as our College had the previous year become a Google Apps for Education School and the tool enabled students to collaborate and work on their projects from home. They needed to work on a shared Doc to plan their research and presentation notes and to also work on a shared Google Presentation (PowerPoint) to present their topic to the class. Presentations were to be 10 minutes long and based around 3 focus questions which I the students were to develop for their chosen topics. You can see the full outline of the research and presentation project assessment task here.

As I only taught the class 2-3 times a week, the majority of the research needed to be completed as homework. The students did not have their own laptops or devices in class but we were able to book some time to access computers to learn how to use the Google Tools and to access the necessary online research materials. As this was the students first research task the assessment focus was mostly on the presentation rather than on the sourcing. While the research was completed over 5 weeks, we did still manage to watch the movie "Gladiator" and the fascinating Ancient Megastructures documentary on the Colosseum. The final 2 weeks were devoted to the presentations with 3 per lesson - the students booked themselves into the presentation slots via a shared Google Spreadsheet.

The Finished Product
Below are two of the presentations to give you an idea of the quality of what was produced. Presentation notes were printed by the students and each student was required to take an equal part in their presentation:

The full list of topics that were presented on is: Emperors, Architecture, Rome's Greatest Enemy, Christianity, Gods, Expansion of the Empire, Gladiators, Army, Punishments, Technology, The Fall of Rome, Civilisation, Pompeii, Slaves, The Aqueducts - a reasonably extensive list. Most other presentations were just as outstanding in content with students wanting to maintain the quality of what they saw in the first round of presentations (Note: an exception was made for the Roman Emperors Project where the two students were given permission to not use research focus questions so they could maintain their creative theme).

This is the second time that I have done this collaborative research and presentation assessment task using Google Docs. What continues to amaze me is that the students absolutely love completing it despite the amount of work involved. When taught how to structure a presentation properly they learn a lot and also gain a great deal of confidence with many getting over their initial fear of presenting in front of others. Of course I enjoy it also as I see students engaged and enjoying learning and liking the subject that I have a passion for. It is also great to see their creativity and personalities coming to the fore in this type of task.

Student Feedback
At the end of the year I conducted an extensive anonymous class survey (using Google Forms) on a number of questions related to the entire year. Three of the questions were specific to the task described above. 25 of the 30 students were present to take part in the survey - here are their responses:



The student feedback on the above question is a real endorsement of Google Docs as a collaborative tool. As the project could not be completed in the limited time that we had in class it made the project sharing side invaluable. All Research Student Presentation Notes and Presentations were also shared to me from the beginning so that I could track student progress on their assignments.

The final question that the students were asked was:
 "What things did you learn most from doing the Rome Research and Presentation Task and seeing other students presenting theirs?"
Answers were in written form and can be viewed here.