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.
A Computing teacher with a passion for collaboration and open source teaching.