Friday, September 23, 2016

Google Classroom: the disruptive technology we've been waiting for?

A disruptive technology is one that changes a paradigm completely.
Reading Steve Jobs' biography several weeks ago was a reminder of just how disruptive a technology the personal computer was in so many ways, fundamentally changing communication, the creation and distribution of media, and the sharing and availability of information.  Just think of all of the fields impacted by these changes!

Curiously, the classroom remains essentially untouched by this disruption, even classrooms with one-to-one devices supplied by the school or BYOT ("Bring your own technology").  Classrooms still tend to be teacher-centered and organized in much the same way that they have been for the past century.  Instead of turning the classroom on its head, computers have awkwardly settled into seemingly unbending classroom environments that are ill-equipped to use them to their full potential.

For all the disruption it has caused to so many other areas of life, the computer has failed to make a substantial difference to how education is done.

Perhaps the burden for disruption is now on those who design software and applications, since the hardware itself has not made the difference it should have.

Perhaps the disruptive technology has already arrived, and has simply not taken told yet.

Personally, I wonder if Google Classroom might be that disruptive technology.  I was struck by a revelation this morning as I worked away in my quiet spot near the window at Tully's.  My task on this cloudy Saturday morning was to virtually "drop in" on each of my students' unit one essays, which they began writing in GoogleDocs on Wednesday.  GoogleDocs are nothing new, of course, but it used to be an unmitigated hassle to get an entire class of students to consistently write essays in GoogleDocs, much less share them with me, and then keep them all organized.

However, using Google Classroom, I simply created a template for the students, and when I posted the assignment, had that template go out to each student as their own editable copy.  Additionally, Google Classroom organized the essays in an intuitive manner--no more searching through my Google Drive or my email to find a student's GoogleDoc: everything is right there in the assignment folder on Google Classroom.  The teacher's draft of the essay is not due until next Thursday, and ordinarily that would be the first time that I would be able to read through what my students had written; my first opportunity to see how their introductions turned out, how their topic sentences and transitions turned out, how their support and commentary shaped up.

This morning, I am reading through my students' work for the second time.  I read through their thesis statements on Wednesday evening and gave them feedback.  Each thesis took five minutes or less to read and comment on.  This morning, most students have their introductions completed, and again, reading and commenting is taking five minutes or less.  Some students even had their essay open while I wrote my feedback, and began to make changes right away!

On Monday, I will workshop topic sentences with the students, and then take another pass through the essays that evening to give more feedback on the topic sentences that they come up with.  I'll do the same with transitions on Tuesday and conclusions on Wednesday.  By the time the students submit their teacher's drafts on Thursday, there should be no surprises--I'll know who is behind; who is struggling with what aspects of their writing.  This will have two impacts on my reading of the completed teacher's drafts next weekend: 1) It will take me less time to read them since I'll have already been reading them in installments over the course of the preceding week, and 2) It will enable me to provide more substantive feedback about their content and logic, since I'll have already given feedback on the technical aspects of their writing and given them opportunities to revise.

Essentially, this technology is enabling me to treat revision as an ongoing process, as it should be, and not something that happens only in huge waves after each draft is submitted.

This, I think, is where there is real potential for disruption to the way we do education.  The ability provide real-time feedback in a clear and efficient way that allows students to adjust and revise immediately has major implications for how both teachers and students spend their time, both in and out of the classroom, as well as implications for how students may be able to collaborate with one another in the future.

Currently, this sort of real-time feedback is most convenient with GoogleDocs, but what if it could be extended to other types of projects and assignments as well?  I saw a glimmer of this potential earlier in the week.  Last Friday, my students submitted their rhetorical fallacy videos--projects they had completed in groups to teach their classmates about different rhetorical fallacies.  I posted the videos on Google Classroom so that the students could access them easily.  Three of the groups had made otherwise good videos, but had forgotten a key element of the prompt: explaining why each example they had shown was a fallacy.  I encouraged these groups to add in explanations and re-submit by this Wednesday.  I was pleased when all three groups opted to do so, and I simply replaced the old links on Google Classroom with the new ones that the students had sent me.

Of course, I had not caught these errors until the students submitted their videos on the due-date, and after catching the mistakes, the students had to go back to iMovie or other editing software to make their changes--platforms I did not have access to--but this would have been far more difficult to do two years ago without Google Classroom, and frankly, impossible to do five years ago.

I wonder if this is a glimpse into the future of education: ongoing projects and essays in which the teacher coaches the students through a constant stream of feedback, and perhaps even peers can coach one another, too.  This may or may not be the change that is coming, and any change is bound to take time, but I do feel, for the first time, like we may be on the brink of a technological revolution in our schools and classrooms... and that is exciting!

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