Going Google Apps… finally!

Its been awhile since I last wrote a blog post as so much has been changing I guess and time gets away from oneself.  I have been working on my own business Kristina Hollis Ed Tech Consulting, and enjoying a great variety of jobs and experiences.  I have also started working back within the NSW DEC at a Hunter Valley school.  Whilst I am still settling into a new school and working out the ‘lay of the land’ so to speak, I have been excited to find that the NSW DEC has finally released Google Apps and provided access for all staff and students to this essential suite of tools.  I have been a Moodle advocate and trainer for 5-6 years now and still firmly believe it to be the best LMS out there, however, Google Apps is definitely a suite of tools, when used the right way, that could rival any LMS.

Benefits of Google Apps

My own personal and professional beliefs about the benefits of Google Apps are:

  • SSO (single sign on) for students to a large number of apps in one browser is simplifying navigation and creating a user-friendly learning experience.
  • Collaboration is easier than ever and revision history plus comments make it possible for teachers and other group members to track work and changes more successfully.
  • Cloud storage is the best way for students to store and manage their work, no longer needing to rely on a USB they will probably lose or potentially corrupt.
  • Extensions bring even more potential to the already ‘brimming-with-possibilities’ suite of apps, assisting individual schools and educators to customise their experiences.
  • Google Classroom is a fantastic way to get students to submit work as it will go into automatically created Google Drive folders, making it easy for teachers to find the work later, download in a ZIP folder and mark.
  • The integration of apps for the purpose of productivity and organisation will assist students to become owners of their learning experiences and more accountable for them in the long-run.
  • Making your own website has never been easier than it is in Google Sites.

There are many other benefits but these are my top ones and I’m looking forward to helping colleagues learn these for themselves and discover the potential Google Apps give them in their own teaching and learning.

Check out the Google for Education website for more information.

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Edmodo vs Moodle – A common debate

So many times when I’ve worked with staff at schools the question is raised, which is better, Edmodo or Moodle?  First of all, they are two different things entirely when you really know what they are.  Is it stated on the Edmodo website that Edmodo is a K-12 social learning network “dedicated to connecting all learners with the people and resources they need to reach their full potential” (Edmodo, 2014).   However, Moodle is stated as being “a learning platform designed to provide educators, administrators and learners with a single robust, secure and integrated system to create personalised learning environments“, as well as this, there is a philosophy behind the development of Moodle that states that “the design and development of Moodle is guided by a “social constructionist pedagogy” (Moodle, 2012).  To me, it is pretty obvious that each of these two products serves distinctly different purposes.

There have been numerous teachers in places I have worked who claim Edmodo to be the best digital learning tool for all teaching and learning activities.  I decided to give it a good go with students a year ago and see for myself how it worked as a learning tool.  It worked well in some instances, and I had about 250 students using it for a range of activities and discussions.  I awarded badges to students based on things they were doing and interacted with them as they completed activities and wrote their reflections etc as replies to posts.  However, after a while, the issues became this:  students forgot passwords and would create new accounts instead of contacting me to find out their password or seek help; students couldn’t find the assigned activities in the feed of comments and activities; and, students focused too much on the social and not enough on completing work and learning.  These are things I found fundamentally disadvantageous to quality teaching and learning.

Moodle on the other hand facilitates teaching and learning that is both synchronous and asynchronous; collaborative and independent; and, passive as well as interactive. Courses in Moodle can be designed to facilitate learning that is based on a linear pathway of content and activities or it can be designed to be completely individualised based on student groups, or some other student-based variable.  For example, completing a lesson activity, students may answer questions in different ways that take them in different directions, depending on the lesson setup.  I could honestly go on about the things I believe set Moodle apart from other systems as a learning management system but basically it is because Moodle facilitates learning customisation, creativity, collaboration and personalisation.

Check out some of these other blog posts that discuss the Edmodo vs Moodle issues:

Ultimately, Moodle is a learning management system and Edmodo is not, it is simply a social learning environment that connects people with the potential to learn.

Feeling challenged. Think outside the box? There is no box.

Tonight I got the wonderful opportunity to go to the inaugural Ann D Clark lecture, hosted and organised by the Catholic Education Diocese, and was inspired by the wonderful presentation given my Dr Yong Zhao.  I’ve been feeling really challenged about many things lately professionally and tonight’s presentation couldn’t have come at a pretty time in some ways, it was thought-provoking and poignant.  The key messages that were conveyed and expressed were definite conversation-starters, however, I am someone who needs time to think it over and make sense of its significance in my head and in writing before I’m capable of articulating in full, the impact it potentially can have on me.  So this is why I write.

Dr Zhao’s presentation left me with these key words ringing in my head… creativity, entrepreneur and talent. These stuck in my my mind because of the implications they have to myself, but also to my students and how I teach them.  Dr Zhao said that what we have created is an education system that embodies the second machine age and that we have moved into a society that requires new talents and skills, but yet we are still teaching within the parameters of the old paradigm.  Its something that I hear often, and that is, we are preparing our students for jobs that do not yet exist.  How do we radically shake up an education system that teaches in a way that may be more harmful than good?  Dr Zhao even went so far as to say that we are an education system of “reduction, suppression and homogenism”… successfully stifling creativity, which = job security and a future of independence.

Creativity has long been something I’ve wanted to see cultivated, harnessed and encouraged more in students, they have so much of it when they are small.  However, Dr Zhao presented data that shows how the creativity of children gets snuffed out quickly by the education system.  Why is that?  I’ve noticed it myself in my own professional practice and its something I was lamenting about only today, even before I heard the lecture.  The organisational structures, culture and politics that we are all so entrenched in, stifles our creativity as teacher because we have to meet deadlines, report schedules, be at meetings, teach to exams/assessments, ensure outcomes and hours are met and so much more.  Where is the space for us to be creative?  If we are not creative, how can we model it and facilitate it, create more opportunities for it with our students?

The idea of entrepreneurship is one I haven’t yet heard very much coming out in education circles, well at least not in secondary ones.  Jobs of the future, and very much of the now, are going to be ones that our students create themselves.  They will see a need and create businesses and services that meet that need.  What the Internet has done for the globalisation of jobs, knowledge and skill sharing and provision of services to others is simply phenomenal and in the future, it will become the reigning ‘workplace’.  Have you considered what you could earn and the reach you could have if you had a YouTube channel that provided a series of valuable videos for a particular audience who watched it religiously?  What do you think you could earn?  Well, Pewdiepie is estimated to be the top highest earning YouTuber as of March 2014, earning an estimated $7 million per annum.  You might think he does something really important on YouTube to earn this… nope.  His video titles include: “Seagull Horror”; “Classy goat! Goat simulator”; and, “Fetus pics”. Have a read of this article from Celebrity Networth to find out how ordinary people are earning big bucks doing nothing.

It was very interesting when Dr Zhao highlighted the fact that now, more than ever, people are becoming famous for doing nothing.  He essentially said that nothing has become something and we love to consume nothing products and nothingness.  He went on to make the point that “whoever can create choice becomes really valuable”.  How can we create more choice?  In school?  In universities? In employment?  What does it look like?  Zhao pointed out that those who can differentiate themselves from others will be of even greater value, they will have something others don’t but need.  I kept thinking as he’s saying these things, how can I be this as a teacher and as a leader of technology within my school?  How can I be creative and create choice?  How can I prepare teachers who still have years left of teaching, to teach the digital natives that are coming through to us with more knowledge at their fingertips than we have ever been able to absorb ready to regurgitate to them?  What will it look like for me to not just think outside the box, but to think… there is no box and never was?

“The old paradigm is not only irrelevant, it is harmful.  Today, education requires we foster creativity and entrepreneurship.” Dr Yong Zhao.