I've been struggling to support the learning needs of my students this year with the introduction of BYOD or Bring Your Own Device. This is sometimes known as BYOT or Bring Your Own Technology. Essentially, the concept stems from the idea that schools shouldn't need to provide laptops/tablets/etc to students anymore, and it is now the teacher's responsibility to cater to whatever the student already owns.
First, the idea is sound, but the support is flawed. Very little was offered to teachers to assist those who had worked so hard for the last few years to adjust their teaching to suit a laptop aided with pre-loaded software, so unfortunately the latest initiative has not been embraced as well as hoped.
What is the answer?
The answer is Google Docs. I know I'm late to the party, but I really think Google Docs is the answer to "How to support BYOD without really trying", and there's no way I'm the only one who believes this. Whatever you've used in the past, whether it be a document on Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDF, etc that you still see as an important teaching tool, you can now easily implement to BYOD using Google Docs, Google Drawing, Google Slides or Google Sheets. And it's not even that hard.
Step 1: Open a web browser (preferably not Internet Explorer, but that's just personal).
Step 2: Create a Google Drive account go to Google Docs.
Step 4: Click on the cog wheel and select "Convert files to Google Docs format".
Step 3: Drag the resource onto the web page and drop it in your Google Drive folder (yes, drag it straight into the browser).
Step 5: Your resource will be uploaded and converted to a Google Doc. Open it and experiment with the text editor (it mostly looks like Word anyway).
Step 6: Click "Share" and adjust the share settings to suit your needs.
(Further details available from Google Docs help.)
The brilliance of the 'share' means you can send this document to a specific person or group of people to freely edit, comment or view. You can also share it to everyone by emailing a link with the same edit, comment or view settings.
So far, it probably just seems like another editing app, but the fact that it is actually an editing program built into a web page, and it's free, means it can be loaded from any type of browser with an internet connection. So straight away you have created a resource that students can load on any device - including iMacs, iPads, iPhones, android tablets, android phones and Windows phones, tablets and laptops. I have included some screenshots below of some of my own resources converted to GoogleDocs with the ability for a student to edit from any device.
Some of you may now be wondering how students can each edit their own copy of a document. The answer is also easy. Assuming the document has been shared by the teacher as 'view-only', then the student has the option of downloading it as an MS Word, PDF, rich text or plain text document. If the student has a Google account, they can create a copy to keep as their own Google Doc and edit it live through the browser. This also has the advantage of saving storage space on the student's device. The benefits of cloud computing will soon be learnt here too. Once they download it in the form of their choice, they can edit immediately.
If you set the file to 'edit' and give it to your students, they will actually be editing the role on your Google Drive account, and you will be able to see the changes live. Don't worry, you can easily edit it again yourself or return the entire document to a earlier version using the revision history (and only you, the owner, can do that).
Effect in the classroom
So far I have used this for various purposes, but one of the best came from a year nine class studying algorithms. I shared a document (easily converted from MS Word years ago) to 15 students utilising four different devices. They not only managed to successfully download and edit the document, but I had the online sharing configured so that they were all working on the same copy at the same time. Since I didn't tell them that they all had editing privileges, the moment they realised they were editing each others' work was one of the funniest experiences I've ever had as a teacher! After allowing some time for the students to enjoy working on the same page simultaneously, they were reminded that there was still a task to complete and what followed was some of the loudest and most engaged collaborative learning I've ever seen. All students were participating and working on different sections to create a very large flowchart algorithm. And the best part, the different devices did not inhibit the interaction of the users or the others. In total, there were twelve students on a desktop machine, two on a mobile phone and one on a tablet. Instantly I realised that GoogleDocs was the easiest shift to BYOD I've found yet.
An additional advantage I have found solves a problem that constantly annoyed me in the past - once you give a student a resource with an error (even a typo), it is difficult to change before you use it again. As this is often very difficult to do during class, you usually have to go back to it later. This was especially tiresome in Moodle and Edmodo as I had to first remove the old file, edit the original and re-upload it. With Google Docs however, you can edit the already shared document live and it will instantly update, not only for the future students' versions, but on the current students' screen too - right before their eyes. Try it, open a Google Doc from two sources, alter it from one and watch how quick it updates on the other. I am still amazed at the speed sometimes.
Have a go
If you have not yet experimented with the applications, I encourage you to try. Plenty of teaching resources already exist throughout this website for teachers to use or modify. Whatever types of worksheets you employ is attributable to GoogleDocs - written response, question and answer, research, crosswords, fill-in-the-blanks, butchers paper exercises, mind maps, shapes, extended response, essays and of course collaborative writing.
I realise there are many applications that incorporate this type of learning, but with the soon to be released Google classroom, I encourage teachers to get involved. If you have used Google Docs in the past, I would love to hear about some of the most successful ways.
Purple Zeus website now live
I am proud to say that the scaffold and structure is finished for the Purple Zeus website. The comments below were originally posted as a news article at Yass High School.
Starting term three, computing students at Yass High will have a new online platform to support their learning.
The primary purpose of the website will be to supplement the teaching of all computing courses from years 9-12. Junior years will be added later. It will offer links to relevant resources, access to multimedia projects and online learning assistance.
The learning activities also incorporate heavy use of the free online tools Google Docs. Students will be able to save and download the activities and open them in a word processing application of their choice such as Microsoft Word or Notes. Additionally, if students have a Google account, they are able to save their own copy of the document online and edit it live through the website.
The platform is additionally designed to be fully compatible with any type of technology, supporting the BYOD initiative. The website, along with the worksheets and learning activities contained within it, can be accessed and utilised to their full potential from anything with an internet connection - screenshots from various devices are included below for your benefit.
If you have any questions, you can submit them through the website or contact Mr Biddle or Mr Saville in the computing faculty.
Two of my friends arguing just last weekend...
"I posted those holiday photos and got like thirty likes, but I didn't get any likes from you."
"I had to actually go into your account to see them. I don't know why they don't show up for me."
"You never like any of my stuff."
I get asked quite often why I dislike Facebook so much. Unfortunately there is no one reason, and there are in fact many. This is not meant to be a list of complaints about the social network, more just a means for me to articulate my own reasoning for when people keep asking me. The conversation above went on for a while longer, but I think you got the idea. In the small segment I quoted, two primary problems are identified - currency and misunderstanding. This blog post will also outline some other points like privacy, advertising and the general counterfeit nature of the social network.
Multiple people utilise their Facebook accounts as a supplement for their own wealth. The more friends you have the more popular and by extension, the more important you are. This is entirely untrue. Those that have a Facebook account with hundreds of friends will likely agree that many of their 'friends' are blocked, hidden or just plain ignored. The same can be said for the number of likes. If a picture or thought generates enough interest once to be shared multiple times, that person's sense of self-efficacy is artificially promoted, and usually to the extent that they can not cope when each subsequent thought or share is not received the same way. I tend to think of everything most people do on Facebook as a way to build their wealth, and this implies an increase in a value which I'll call Facebook Currency. This currency is worthless to people who are not on Facebook (fortunately this is still more than half the planet), but to those using the social network it seems to be of an almost equal worth to actual currency, and some might be willing to exchange between the two.
The misunderstanding evident from the second speaker was that even the people who use Facebook regularly, still don't fully understand how it works. Chances are a filter has been applied somewhere, but with all the changes to settings and the user interface over the years, the speaker had no idea why it wasn't performing correctly. As a software designer, the support you present to your users must always come first. It is no secret that Facebook's public face usually leaves a lot to be desired, but more often than not, the company avoids true customer support. As this is generally against one of the foundation principles of developing software, its hard to support a major tech company that seems to hold such little regard for its users.
A reason people often ask me why I don't use Facebook is because I don't live in a big city, and people wish to see pictures of my kids growing up. I accept this is a perfectly reasonable request. Since the technology exists, why not use it? The answer is simple, and for most people obvious, privacy. Everything a person does on Facebook, from posting images, sharing a link or commenting on a friends thought belongs to Facebook. It is hard to believe because they claim they'll never use it for anything bad; but really, who would give their wedding photos to a multimillion dollar company with no legally binding agreement to use them safely? More importantly why would you do it in the first place? Personally, I'd rather not travel overseas one day and see my two-year old on the side of bus in China or billboard in Russia. Some users are oblivious to this (again having users not fully understand the product is an example of the poor user support), but most I think weigh up the choice of sharing a great photo with friends against the long term risk of the privacy loss. The sad thing is there are several alternatives to sharing photos in particular that removes the problem entirely. One such example I use is to regularly update a Photobucket album for which all my friends and family have access, and the privacy settings on this site ensure that I retain the rights to the pictures - not them. Even the interface is better, I can silly upload the photos from the desktop without the needs for a web browser. Anyone can view it here so long as they have the password (which I'm happy to provide to people that I know).
I was doing a little surfing on why others dislike Facebook so much and I came across the YouTube video below. In it, the speaker outlines the financial aspects of Facebook, and how the company actually uses it's users to advertise. The more people get involved, the more money goes to Facebook's shareholders. It is particularly interesting how the speaker emphasises that all Facebook users are in fact creators, advertisers and the audience. And since the users are doing all the work, why does Faebook retain all the profits? There's something about that, that just seems wrong. I won't detail any more of this, other than to recommend the clip.
One of the final points I'll make regarding Facebook is just how fake it is. Almost everything users see is counterfeit. The least popular stuff is cast aside and the more popular stuff is pushed to the top. Eventually, all users are left with a group of people who would be little more than 'yes men' in the business world. How can a person, especially a young person, be expected to cope in the real world when they have instant access to an unlimited source of personal validation? Another video I've attached below brilliantly demonstrates how a person can appear to be living and how they are actually living their life, through the most basic features of Facebook. The tagline for the clip sums it up pretty well:
Facebook can be depressing because everyone else's lives are better than yours... But are they really?
Finally, I'll wrap up by pointing out that yes I did once have Facebook. A friend suckered me into it back in 2007. Eventually, I realised the error of my ways and have been Facebook free for almost three years now. My own dislike also has little to do with my online presence. If you've got this far, you've obviously noted that I have a personal portfolio website that I use as an open-source teaching resource, this reflective blog, a Photobucket account for my family, my personal learning network through Twitter (who coincidentally have similar privacy laws to Facebook), and several other online tools like Edmodo, Moodle, banking, government, insurance, eBay, Google and of course email. I encourage you to watch both videos and think carefully about the answer to this question - Should I be using Facebook?
I have been quietly updating several components of the website in the past few days. Most of the content for each of the pages (at least the ones that are completed) serves as a teaser to a particular lesson. My style of teaching greatly revolves around my ability to ad-lib the extra details from a series of bullet points.
It does make me wonder though, how important is the specific content we discuss? Do my students simple accept that each lesson will being with a spiel about something they will have to listen to, only to then be confused when the set questions or exercises have little to do with the content. Most of the time, especially in a technology field, the content is quite literally very different each year. I've only been teaching three and a half years, and I'm unsure if there's a single thing I'm still teaching now from my first year lesson plans.
I find it is usually better to mention the issue (pretty much straight from the syllabus) and then discuss them with the students as adults. Typically by asking them what they already know and, more often than not, confirming it to be true and correct. Thus, why teach all the content sometimes? Wouldn't it be easier for students to see a list of things on the board and simply ask which of them they don't know, don't understand, have never heard of, or want to clarify? How much time could be saved or re-assigned to projects?
A Computing teacher with a passion for collaboration and open source teaching.