Google is undoubtedly a powerful tool in education, for both teachers and students. It is common for schools to mainly use Google for its popular search engine, as a research tool, but there are now a variety of features on offer which can also be applied to classroom use.
When deploying Google Apps for education, students gain access to their own personal Gmail accounts (managed by the school domain) and a wide range of applications. The mail accounts make digital interaction between students and teacher simple and allow pupils to experience a different mode of communication.
The applications on offer for students are where the real magic happens! Google ‘Docs’, ‘Sheets’ and ‘Slides’ (the equivalent of Microsoft Office Word, Excel and Powerpoint respectively) have limitless possibilities. For me, the best feature of these apps by a long way is the sharing feature, which makes collaboration effortless.
When creating a new document, pupils can share it with other people in the classroom or school, their teacher, and even people from around the world. A whole group of people can work on the same document at the same time and be located in completely different places. Children get very excited at seeing the live changes that happen on every participating screen, with colour-coded cursors showing the edits that other contributors make. As a teacher you can also live edit and add comments to give immediate feedback, acknowledged to have a huge impact on teaching and learning.
There are an infinite number of ways to utilise this collaborative feature for all ages, and these apps are especially useful for integrating technology to cross-curricular work. Another useful app for this purpose is ‘Google Forms’. ‘Forms’ allows the creation of questionnaires, which has a range of uses in all subjects. Firstly, it can be used as an assessment tool; either at the beginning of a lesson to gauge prior knowledge or at the end as a plenary to check understanding. Additionally, students can use it to gather their own data, particularly useful for mathematics.
Other features worth mentioning include ‘Drive’, where students can save documents to secure cloud storage and share documents such as homework with others; ‘Calendar’, which is a useful shared organisation tool and ‘Translate’ which opens possibilities for communicating with students and parents who speak English as an additional language.
As an educator, I find Google to be a really useful tool for my classroom and I have used it in a wide variety of lessons for a variety of purposes. I have not yet discovered every part of every accessible feature and continue to explore the possibilities of this technology. The potential for Google Apps enhancing student communication, collaboration and competence with technology is both vast and valuable.
Gemma Sharland is a primary school teacher and computing coordinator at her school in Bristol.