Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Google Apps for Learning and Teaching (GALT): Sheffield One Day Conference

An image with 2-D heads talking
Exchange of Ideas (CC0 Public Domain image)

Friday 7th March saw the Google Apps for Learning and Teaching (GALT) event take place at Sheffield Hallam University. This was a joint event organised by the Learning Technologist Team at The University of Sheffield (UoS) and the Technology Enhanced Learning Team at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), along with faculty based learning technologists from each institution. Attendees included academics and professional staff from both institutions, as well. A series of blog posts appearing here will present a résumé of the day and act as an information source for delegates and those unable to attend in person.

The day was split into two distinct parts. In the morning there was a series of show and tell sessions. These alternated between presenters from each institution and were grouped by different themes (e.g. Google hangouts and sites). The afternoon involved a set of 75 minute long workshops run in parallel. Then we came together again for the final plenary session. About 100 people attended the morning session and about 80 registered to attend the workshops.

The day began with a welcome from Farzana Latif (UoS) and Brian Irwin (SHU).

Presentations Session 1

1. Authentic Assessment with Google Sites

Michelle Blackburn, Lynne Booth and Simon Warwick (SHU) ,

Simon is the Learning Technologist in the Sheffield Business School at SHU.

The work he outlined started about two years ago. Michelle and Lynne, as the academic leads, wanted to create something innovative and different. This was prompted to some extent by the increase in student tuition fees.

Experience showed that whilst students were coming to university in recent years with more awareness of technology, they may not know how to use this in an educational context.

Additionally, employability is very important and needs to be catered for within whatever the students are doing.

It was decided that the students would develop a website. Google Sites was chosen as the vehicle for the students’ project as it provided several advantages. Its use meant that students could take things with them when they completed their studies and left. Learning could take place using learning materials both inside and outside the VLE. Help materials were all provided inside the VLE. Google Sites templates were created for students to use. This meant that training and help resources were simplifies because of the standardized approach. Editing privileges to the sites were cut off for students at the hand-in date.

Students were given a more authentic learning experience by the introduction of external speakers throughout the course.

Students created sites as a group activity with some group assessment being used.

Students needed to be comfortable in what they were being asked to do and do what they were supposed to be doing.

Students gave audio feedback about their feelings towards the course. Several wanted to know why they needed to create a website, as “we aren’t doing a computer degree”. Consequently there was a varied range in the quality of the sites created.

Reviewing the course at the end of the first year it was run showed that students didn’t act on the feedback they were given within the course. They didn’t prepare for the first session; they needed to prepare beforehand and bring it in, but most didn’t. There was also a need for them to plan the site before they started working on it.

One student used the site that she/he had made to show a prospective employer the quality of her/his work and she/he gained a position. This was a very positive experience and emphasized the employability element of the course. Those who failed the course retook and had a greater understanding of the purpose of the course and what was expected of them, so they got more out of it.

With the group marking, some students gained 70-80% and others failed within the same group. A question arose about how the group marking was carried out to enable such a spectrum of marks to occur from group work. Part of the site was created as a group and that carried a weighting of 15% of the marks. Additionally, students had to create an individual subspace which only they could edit. This carried a weighting of 85%, hence the possible range of marks within a group.

Moving forward more generally and implementing such technology enhanced learning on a broader scale would require greater learning technology support than was available, unless things were more driven by the academics. This required an increase in academic confidence to enable the required scaling to happen. With more risk there is a need for greater scaffolding. This applies equally to academic colleagues as it does to the students.


Technology benefits - Lohr 2010

Group tasks / assessment - “Many hands make light the work: The causes and consequences of social loafing”, Latane, B., Williams, K., Harkins, S. (1979)
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37 (1979), pp. 822–832

2. A Case Study All About Linguistics (Google Sites)

Gary Wood (UoS)

Gary outlined his work on a first year course. Students often come to university unaware of what is specifically involved in linguistics. Gary got the students to create a website giving details about what the subject of linguistics involved. The purpose of the task developed by Gary was to
  • enable students to gain greater familiarity with the subject,
  • increase the authenticity for the students by getting them to create a website for a real audience,
  • and feed knowledge forward to prospective students about linguistics.

Advantages offered by Google Sites
  • Page-level permissions
  • Integrate features (YouTube, sound-clips via Soundcloud, Dipity timelines, Hot Potatoes for quizzes, Screenr for screencasting)

Enhancements to project management
  • Google Docs (most site work done over the Easter vacation)
  • Calendar Appointments via slots to see Gary
  • Google+ Hangouts (why not just use Skype - need multiple people access)

Launch event & evaluation administration
  • Google Forms to allow booking

Five Reasons for using Google Apps

1. Google Apps are really well integrated. They are intuitive to use. They facilitate success. Students didn’t have any problems with working in groups because Google Apps made the process of working asynchronously very easy. (Previously problems about group work have generally about the process.)

2. It gave students transferable skills. It felt real to them, it had purpose and so they put more work in. They weren’t worried about the grades; there was less asking about how much they needed to complete to achieve a certain grade. It felt more important to them to produce a good website, good grades would result as a consequence to the work.

3. The students were empowered. They put more effort in because they enjoyed it.

4. The end product was genuinely useful to the students, “much more so than an essay that was marked by the tutor and then thrown into a draw”. The product enhances the School of English’s profile with it gaining more hits on the sites. The material is useful to schools to introduce pupils to the concepts.

5. The process enables continuous feedback. Students could see other groups’ work and could provide feedback. They were able to compare their own work with the standard of other groups. They could also link the topics together much better. Staff could provide feedback continuously and the students like this because it was more timely and allowed for ongoing revision and therefore a more valuable learning experience.

Final thought from Gary:

Empower students with tools, opportunity & freedom, trust them and they’ll show you how awesome they can be.

One question from the audience asked, “What could you do with students from future cohorts if the work had already been done and was made public?”

Gary’s response was that he saw the site more like Wikipedia in so far was it is never completed. It is a huge topic. The second year focused on making research accessible to sixth-form students. It can be a continuous approach of adding more topics.

3. Using Google Sites for ‘Round the Clock’ Support

Robin Gissing (SHU)

This work was carried out to resolve a problem students were experiencing. They were unable to find answers to questions they were having about their course. These were administration type questions and the administration office closed at 5pm. Lectures could go on until 9pm. The web based FAQs weren’t necessarily covering these questions.

The Student Support Office created a Survival Handbook to alleviate the problem, but they wanted this to be accessible via mobile devices.

Consequently Robin used Google Sites to create a mobile version of the Handbook. Very quick to do.

The site is available to view:

When developing the site emphasis was placed on it being very informative, on its usability and its ease of updating. The buttons were made in Powerpoint, so they were easy to create and add to in the future.

At the time the site was originally created Robin had to extensively alter code to make it mobile friendly. Now Google has introduced the mobile friendly functionality by simply clicking a tickbox. Unfortunately, some functionality has been lost with the introduction of this feature.


The Student Services Team love this. They can easily edit it themselves and it is quick to update.
Students like it because it is so accessible and useful.

One point to note is that Google randomly add/remove functionality, which can change the use of a service without notice, e.g. Viewport HTML

4. Streamlining Communications: Ending the Email Deluge (Google Drive)

Sam Clarke (UoS)

The initial premiss Sam was working from was to reduce the amount of emails coming into the inbox. He outlined via tips a number of features that can make this happen.

Firstly, Google Drive enables colleagues to work collaboratively on documents, spreadsheets, etc. This allows both synchronous (real time) and asynchronous working on a master document with history and version control preventing the interlacing of emails and document changes. It saves time on collaborative work. And makes it easier for working in remote locations. There is also a reduction in email attachments being sent.

Enabling Gmail keyboard shortcuts can save you time as an individual. For example Ctrl-Enter will send a message from the compose window. Additionally, there is the ability to undo a sent email if you enable that option (Gear > Settings > Lab tab > Undo Send radio button) and undo within 20 seconds of sending.

Indeed, there are a number of Labs options that can be used throughout Google Apps. Options can enable greater integration with other providers by connecting more apps. Sam coming from engineering used the example of being able to view AutoCAD files from within a browser window on Google Drive.

Google Drive can be used for file storage (similar to Dropbox) for online backup.

Sam stated that email should never be the only copy of information.

Spreadsheets can be used to monitor student attendance. This is done in Sam’s department on an ongoing basis and uploaded in one go at the end of the year for the final formal recording.

Student dissertation interviews are also administered using a Google Spreadsheet. Staff receive the link to one master spreadsheet. They check and update the details individually. At the end of that process the spreadsheet is “locked down” to prevent any further alterations and then emailed out as a link to all students.

Tip: Adding meeting information as an attachment to the calendar entry means that it is sent out to all who are attending as long as the document is in Google Drive.

Tip: Google Group behaves like a mailing list. This means that you can track emails. The Group can be used for Calendar invites and also to set permissions.

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