Lifelong learning and growth

One of the courses I am doing for my Master of Educational Leadership this semester is ‘Learning Technologies in Practice’.  I have been a keen educational technology practitioner for a number of years now, however, I don’t think we can ever stop learning in this area so I thought it was a good opportunity to continue developing and also share with colleagues as well.  Something I have been really reflecting on of late, and how it fits into the classroom, is Google Apps.  The DEC has released Google Apps to all NSW DEC schools (see previous blog post) and I think its fantastic, however, where do they fit into what DEC schools are currently doing?

I think I will focus my first EDCN865 assignment on a PBL-based unit of work that makes effective use of Google Apps as I really want to help my colleagues better understand how they can make use of these tools in their own classroom.  The ability to be creative and collaborative is what I love the most about Google Apps.  The apps are also one of the best ways to create/facilitate student-centred learning experiences.  This is something I am extremely passionate about and really want to encourage more in classrooms. Teachers are so comfortable with the ‘chalk and talk’ method (or variations of), however, we are not doing our students any favours by spoon-feeding them with notes, lectures and wordy Powerpoint presentations.

Technologies such as Google Apps, afford educators the opportunity to provide differentiated learning experiences that are created and driven by students for the most part.  Ownership and accountability for the work can be given to students too with the ability to track revision history in apps such as Google Docs.  Problem- or project-based learning (PBL) is also the perfect platform to showcase this in.  PBL is inquiry-based and student-centred and Google Apps provide students with the essential tools to independently manage this.  So, this is where my thoughts are heading for my assignment, but also for how I want to encourage and work with my colleagues as school.

I have implementing Google Classroom with two of my Year 8 Visual Art classes who are completing a research task and I have been exploring the potential of this app as a learning management system substitute (albeit limited) because my current school does not utilise Moodle very much.  I have found that students picked up the knowledge and skills of how to access the classroom very quickly and did not need very much, if any, further instructions on how to use the system. They were very good at following my instructions and navigating the app and it has been easy for me to access their assignments, comment and give marks back.

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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.

Moodle Heaven…. but how to make everyone see it that way?

So its been in the works for awhile but over the last week we (school ICT manager and myself) backed up all the courses from our school’s Moodle 1.9 instance and restored manually one at a time into new Moodle 2.4 instance… 160 plus courses!!! It’s been a tedious and at times very frustrating process as we configured not only Moodle 2.4 but Mahara 1.7 and our authentication process through Google apps and LDAP.  I don’t completely understand all of the authentication stuff but I’ve been handling a lot of the other stuff and it does your head in but the fruits of our labour are now showing… and it’s Moodle Heaven to me 🙂

So what have we got?  Moodle 2.4 with a theme that we will be changing very shortly to be a consistent theme across both Moodle and Mahara, making a Mahoodle configuration complete.  Our Moodle instance also has about 8 different course formats and I am a huge fan of Collapsed topics, OneTopic and Tab Topics format.  We have also eagerly added in many new blocks and modules including:

These are only are percentage of what we have added but I am very excited from the little play I’ve had with them.  However, this does pose the question… how to we train teachers bit by bit and not have them overwhelmed?  How much is a good number to cater for all faculties and experience levels, without being too much?  It’s a hard balancing act but in the past I’ve seen watered down Moodle instances that simply do not engage or motivate staff to take it up so I want to go the opposite way and see if this effects the uptake and motivation to learn more and use more than files and URLs.

Some of my plans so far to tackle the staff training and initial familiarisation with 2.4 is to post a set of times when I have lessons off and they can come to the library and have training with me on Moodle.  I will use the wonderful activity module called Booking, which I’ve had a bit of a play with and it will be perfect for them.  Why would I use a booking system and not just the usual channels of email etc?  Well, I think the benefits of using this booking system will be the email notifications and reminders and ability t add to calendar etc.  Another thing I will be doing instantly is starting an FAQ database that will be in the Learning Technologies courses but also in the staff Moodle page.  I will also keep creating instructional guides as I have and also creating screencast videos and putting them on YouTube for them to learn about Moodle 2.4.

I’m optimistic that it will all work out well and that staff will be very happy by the end of term 2 with the changes and be more confident with Moodle but we will have to see.  It will be a big learning curve for all but I believe that is a good thing… a great thing!!! I also believe that if I put the training for Moodle into the context of learning about something else that they will learn Moodle skills without focusing on Moodle so much that they are overwhelmed.  More to ponder and plan 🙂  No staff need to worry too much about Mahara at this stage as I will be taking every year 9 class through this myself and training them to use it and staff will take it up a lot more slowly.