Using Google as a Learning Platform

1) Understanding Google

Google, in simple terms, is a file storage drive, just like your hard drive at home.  You add folder and save files, the only difference is that the files are stored on someone else’s hard drive accessed via the internet (cloud technology).  However, Google drive also allows the user to edit the file within the web browser, without downloading it to their computer or mobile device.  This means that students can use their mobile devices to edit and create learning content in any classroom or workspace (coffee shop).

Google also offers a desktop App, which works like dropbox allowing the students or teacher to synchronise their raw files with any device.  This is like having access to your hard drive from any computer.  However, these files are copied onto the computer with the desktop app and any modification which you make is recorded and sent to your Google drive which updates the files stored on your cloud drive.  When you login from a different computer using Google desktop app all the file are compared to the files stored on your cloud drive and updates are made.  Think of this as your USB memory stick, as long as you install the App you can download the raw file.  Remember you can download any of your files from Google drive directly from the web browser and then upload the file when you have finished.  The Google desktop app removes the step.

 2) Access Rights & Student Control

Google has built in control to allow you to define who can access your drive, folders and files.  For example, you can set the folder to public which will allow the user (anyone from the internet) to access the content of the folder. You can also set the actions which the user can complete, for example, edit or upload a file.  You can also set the folder to only allow people with the direct web link to access the folder.   In theory, the folder will not be located by an internet search.  However, if the web link is save as a hyperlink the user can simply click on it and load the folder.

Finally, you can set the folder to private, which means that the only people who can access the folder are the people who own the email address(es) which you have provided.  If your name is not on the list you can’t come in!  You can use this feature to control student access to the folder e.g. only the students on the module.

2.1) Submitting Coursework

The only real solution is to create a folder for each student and share it with that student only.  The other students will see the folder but will not be able to access it.  Then you simply cut (move) the student work into a master folder or marking folder.  This will mean that the student cannot download the submitted work or replace it with a newer version after the deadline. This approach will allow you to use the same folder for the student for all work submission.  The other approach is to stop sharing the folder after the deadline but this means you will have to re-share the folder for the next coursework submission.

 3) Creating A Module

There are two main approaches to using Google drive as a file server or to allow files to be uploaded and downloaded:

3.1) The Folder Structure

This is where the teacher creates a set of folders which represent the module.  Figure 1, below, indicates a folder for each week but it could be complete daily or daily folders within the weekly folders.  This also makes it easier for the teacher to quickly create new modules by copying folders from one module to another.  Most students like this approach as they can quickly find the required information.  This approach also allows the student to download the material directly to their Google drive.

 3.2) The Webpage

An alternative approach is to provide a front end (index webpage) which the students access.  The index page is a page full of hyperlinks which can be created and structure to your needs.  For example, you can have hyperlinks to any folder or files within your Google drive.   This means that the student simple click on the hyperlink and the folder or file is presented in the web browser.  From here the student can save the learning materials into their personal Google drive or download it to their hard disk drive (device).

This approach allows calendars and to do list to be shared with your students.  Google provides a free website with a simple and quick to use interface, allowing you to quickly create a webpage with these features.

4) Student Surveys and Tests

One of the best features of Google Documents, which is linked to your Google drive, is the ability create surveys, linked to spreadsheets, which can double as students’ tests.  These tests can be used as starters, plenaries or formative feedback to check progression.  Better still they can be used as voting tools within a lecture using QR codes as this allows the students to load the voting page within a few seconds using mobile devices.  The survey software automatically creates graphs and data summaries.  When using this as a voting tool within lecture I display the graph on the interactive whiteboard to the class, allowing them to see the voting outcome.

 5) Digital Meetings and Class Questions

Google chat has evolved into Google handout which offers ‘Skype’ like features allowing video and voice chat, screen and document sharing.  However, there are other methods which can be used.  For example, using document comments to develop ideas or discuss a point before modifying or writing it in the document.  All these approaches can be used to assess the level of engagement of each student during group work.

An extension of this is using real-time chat feeds (or twitter) alongside the presentation allowing students to present questions as you are working your way through the lecture. I have tried his with skype but not Google.  However, this approach does allow the real-time student questioning.  Ask the students to agree or disagree with the statement by posting yes or no, then do an estimate of vote, also see 4) Student Surveys and Tests, above.

6) Google and Turnitin

More recently Turnitin (plagiarism checker) have developed a method of integrating their submission process into a Google folder on your Google drive (cloud drive).  This removes the needs to use virtual learning environments such as Blackboard and Moodle to submit files for checking.  This opens Google drive to universities and colleges who are reliant on plagiarism checker.

7) Some More Iideas

8) Google Classroom (VLE)

Google classroom is a very simple, but effective virtual learning environment (VLE) because it is stripped down to the core requirements of a VLE for teachers.  Was a natural extension of how educator and engage with Google within the USA, where google provides the digital infrastructure for a schools.  This means that the school only needs machines which can run a web browser and connect to the internet.  Thus reducing hardware cost.  The knock on effect is that the use of mobile technology or user centred technology (bring you own device to work) as increased across the sector, further reducing the schools budget on hardware.  However, this has brought its own problems like system security and data protection.  See video links below.