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Practice Analysis of a New Learning ‘Ecology’

Project Overview

Project Description

Parse a student learning experience in a computer-mediated learning environment. What are the elements and patterns of this practice in terms of teacher-student interactions, student-resource interactions, student-student interactions, and the nature of student assessment? How are these different from, and perhaps also similar to, traditional classroom interactions? This work could consist of a reflection on practice you have already used, or analyze a new or unfamiliar practice the dimensions of which you would like to explore. Consider and cite the theoretical models of learning ecologies developed by you and your colleagues in Work 1.

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The Google Classroom

Practice Analysis of New Learning Ecology


Learning Has Gone Google Video Clip

It is often said that teachers are educating the minds of tomorrow. We are preparing children for their futures. We don't know for sure what that future will look like, but we do know that technology is going to continue to play an important role in the workplace. Promoting the use of technology in the K through 12 setting has been a challenge and the first step is to get future educators to integrate educational technology as a regular part of their approach to instruction (Denton, 2012). Google offers boundless opportunities and free resources for integrating technology in the classroom through it’s various features including Google Docs, Google Groups, Google Apps, and the Cloud, to name a few.

The Cloud

Learning how to use technology is almost like learning another language. The older you get, the more difficult it is to learn a new language. Children today are said to be "digital natives" and grow up learning this language of technology. One important term that Google users must know is the cloud. It is not the white puffy thing in the sky, although it is just as remarkable. The term ‘cloud computing’ is a metaphor for technologies that allow people to access computing services and to share data over the Internet" (Denton, 2012). No matter what Internet accessible device one is using or where, the data stored in the Google cloud is on an external server, not on the individual device. Everything that you save to your cloud, whether it was something you created or was shared with you by others, can be accessed in your personal drive, just like the drive on a computer or an external hard drive. Let's say that you are working on a paper on a computer at the library. Then, you want to continue working on it on a computer at home. If you saved the file to the first computer, there is no way to access it on the second computer unless you e-mailed it to yourself or saved it on a jump drive. The Google Cloud saves you all of that extra time and hassle. When you save your working documents to the cloud, you can access them from any Internet capable device.

Image retrieved from: Denton, D. (2012). Enhancing Instruction through Constructivism, Cooperative Learning, and Cloud Computing.

Google resources are free for non-profit educational institutions, it does not require anything to be downloaded, and it does not take up space on a hard drive (Nevin, 2009). The Google cloud is accessible through the Google e-mail account, which is fast and easy to set up and very efficient for file sharing. All you need is a text file with the first names, last names, logins and passwords of each user (students and teachers). No phone numbers or addresses are needed, so if someone were to hack the system, no private data would be compromised. “The whole procedure took less than 30 minutes for around 1,000 users” (Nevin, 2009). It is a secure system because everything stays within the registered domain and cannot be accessed by people who do not have a login. In order to share information with others within the domain, all you need to know is their e-mail address.

As described before, one of the major benefits of the cloud is that it can be used and accessed on any device that is Internet capable, which means students can bring their own devices to school. This is particularly helpful when a school does not have enough resources to provide each student with their own device. Many schools now are BYOD (bring your own device) schools. This is a great solution to the problem of limited resources that many schools face, but it can also cause problems for the teacher when trying to find programs and systems to use that all students can access regardless of the device, for example PC and Mac are often incompatible with certain programs. How many times have you saved something on a USB drive and tried to print on another system, but could not open the file? More times than not, students have different resources at home and at school to work with. Mac specific and PC specific programs or versions of programs are often incompatible with each other causing difficulties when trying to work on a project on multiple devices. Google can be accesssed from any internet capable device and it looks the same on every device, which is helpful for instructional purposes. The students should know how to use their own device, since it is their property, and the teacher just has to know how to navigate the Google resources and teach the students how to use those. When the student takes their device home, they already know how to use the resource to do their school work.

Google Docs

Google Docs is one of the free resources that Google offers, which is where you can create, edit, and share live documents. When you create a document, you save it just like you would save a Word Document to your computer, except you save it to your drive, where it is stored in the cloud. When the owner of a document wants others to see their work, they can choose e-mail addresses to share with. The other person then gets an e-mail notifying them that the creator of the document has shared with them. The document becomes a shared space allowing for synchronous typing and adding of information.

Group work, such as writing collaborative science lab reports, can be difficult for students to complete outside of school due to the various extra curricular activities that students are involved in these days from sports to school clubs. With Google Docs, students do not have to find a common time or place to meet outside of school because they can collaborate and share online. Google documents are live, working documents, which means that the creator can give editing capabilites to the people he shares with and they can all work on it simultaneously or at different times.

Google Docs takes the peer editing process, group brainstorming, self-evaluation, and teacher feedback to a new level. Because of the cloud, the sharing of documents and files is easy. In a writing workshop setting, students can share their writing with their peers for feedback. The peers can make corrections and comments on the document without switching computers or printing any papers. After making his revisions, the student can then submit their work to the teacher by sharing thr document with the teacher and once again, no printing is necessary. The teacher is then able to see the revisions history of the document in order to evaluate the process the student went through to get to the final product. The teacher can provide feedback, suggest revisions to be made, or give a grade and the student will see it the next time they open their doc. With everything they do at home and at school saved in one location, on the cloud, students will have a digital portfolio by the end of a school year or course, without having to print or save any paper copies of assignments.

Chalk Talk: An Application of Google Docs in the Classroom

Google Docs can be used for individual assignments and group projects, but it can be used for whole group classroom activities as well. One example is with the use of a strategy called Chalk Talk. The social studies classroom is often one where much conversation goes on due to the nature of the content. “By using classroom discourse, students can, and often do, learn better by talking to their peers in class than being simply lectured to by the teacher” (Roberts, 2013). One issue social studies teachers often face is how limited they are by the amount of time in a class period for a really good discussion to take place. Before any discussion can even take place, the content and background of an issue needs to be taught, which usually takes up the majority of a class period. In order to address this concern, the Coalition of Essential Schools developed a strategy called “Chalk Talk” (Roberts, 2013). Chalk Talk is a form of silent discussion in a social studies classroom. The teacher first writes a phrase, question, or topic in the center of the white board. All students then take turns going up to the board and writing their response. It is important that the teacher emphasize that there is no right, wrong, or stupid answer (Roberts, 2013). In using this system, all students get to participate and they get to see everyone else’s responses. Often in a classroom discussion, only some students speak, therefore some student’s thoughts are never heard. In reading other’s thoughts and positions on a topic, students may gain a deeper understanding of the content. Social studies content lends itself to the study of controversial issues. This method facilitates critical thinking, demonstrates democratic values, and encourages students to build their tolerance of others thoughts and opinions.

Image retrieved from: Nevin, R. (2009). Supporting 21st Century Learning Through Google Apps.

However, we are once again limited by the amount of class time. It can take a long time to get approximately 20 students to have their turn at the board. Those who are waiting to go up or have already gone up are expected to sit quietly and wait while their peers write, which leaves them inactive for a long period of time (Roberts, 2013). While some students write long extended responses to the topic, others write just a few words or a simple yes or no response. On the white board, there is a limited amount of space, so what happens when you run out? Someone doesn’t get to write? Finally, as teachers know, there is the issue of handwriting and readability. Not everyone has perfect penmanship for the white board, which makes some responses difficult to read and, unless you know everyone’s handwriting, it is difficult to see who is contributing each response.

In a study of one teacher and 17 high school students, Google Docs was introduced as a medium for Chalk Talk. As discussed earlier, in a Google Doc, multiple students can be logged in at the same time and have equal access to the document. The previous issue of limited space is no longer a concern. The pressures of going up to the board, spelling words correctly (Google Doc has spell check), and making handwriting as neat as possible are all eliminated as well. The teacher can watch in real time as students are making their contributions, so that she may provide immediate redirection or praise. However, it can be difficult to see who is contributing each response unless each student selects a different font and/or color. What is written on a white board must be erased and unless it is recorded, the information is lost. A Google document can be saved, reposted for further discussion, and can even be continued outside of the classroom. The study showed that this method did not actually take less time than the Chalk Talk on the board and the issue of student inactivity was still prevalent (Roberts, 2013). In order to address the issue of inactivity, once a student has completed their response, they could be asked to choose another students response to comment on. This is one possible solution which would ensure that all students are engaged for the duration of the activity.

Students who participated in the study responded positively to the new method of chalk talk. One student said, “I like using this to discuss things because it gives us a chance to look at other peoples view on stuff” (Roberts, 2013). Students do enjoy reading what their peers have to say and some even need to see an example before they formulate their own response, such as for the student who said, “its an easier way to get work done and also if you don’t understand something you can look back at your classmates response and get some type of idea and help yourself” (Roberts, 2013). In this study chalk talk was used for social studies discussion, but I could see it being used for a literature discussion, music class, art class, and many other academic settings.

In his review of instructional methods, which predicate on constructivism and cooperative learning, Denton reviews how teachers and students can use Google Docs to meet the criteria for a true constructivist and cooperative learning environment. Constructivism by definition is the integration of prior knowledge with new, unfamiliar information to create new learning (Denton, 2012). The four key ingredients for constructivism include:

1. Facilitation of group dialogue

Google Docs are working, live documents, where students and the teacher can work simultaneously. Unlike a textbook which is a static display, or a teacher taking notes on a whiteboard, using Google Docs for instruction encourages participation from the students and facilitates group discussion.

2. Reference to formal domain knowledge

Class notes and outlines can be shared on Google Docs and can be added to as the class goes on. Students will continue to have access to the notes and information which they can use as a reference when they have to further discuss a topic, answer critical thinking questions, or share their opinion on a matter.

3. Opportunities for students to select challenge level

The teacher can post a variety of different questions or prompts and students can select the one they feel most comfortable addressing.

Image retrieved from: Denton, D. (2012). Enhancing Instruction through Constructivism, Cooperative Learning, and Cloud Computing.

4. Practice of metacognitive skills

Students can reflect on what their peers have said and engage in conversations that require them to apply the higher levels of Blooms taxonomy such as applying and analyzing.

These four qualities for a constructivist classroom can be achieved with paper and pencil methods in a traditional classroom, but Denton finds that instruction is more efficient, innovative, and can be greatly enhanced by utilizing Google resources, such as Google Docs.

Google Apps

There are countless other free resources that Google offers called Google Apps in addition to Google Docs. Denton summarizes the Google resources in a concise list illustrating how Google apps can be used in unlimited ways for a variety of purposes and benefits.

A study done at Adam Scott CVI follows two high school teachers, one of which was described as having “average technical skills,” and two 12th grade English classes. The teachers had little problem learning how to use Google Apps and, not surprisingly, the students learned it even more quickly (Statucki, 2012). The students reported liking the Google apps and they requested using it in other classes because they could use it at home and never lose documents (Statucki, 2012).

1. Group problem solving and decision making

In the traditional classroom, when students put a product together as a group, the teacher has no real way of knowing how much each student contributed. With Google Docs, the teacher can see a digital record of each team members contributions.

2. Peer assessment

Students can provide feedback, make comments, and chat on Google Docs.

3. Student-constructed presentations

Teachers can create an outline of classroom content and discussion and assign different parts to individual students or groups of students to be responsible for presenting to the whole group. The Google Docs display is evolving, unlike a textbook display, which is static.

4. Simultaneous class discussions

Discussions on various topics can take place at the same time. The teacher can post a few topics for discussion, allow students to select the one they’d like to discuss, and a discussion can take place on the Google Docs.

5. Assisted writing

Teachers can provide assistance in the planning, drafting, and revising processes. There is no need to print a document for the teacher to see it. The teacher can provide feedback for the student to see immediately, rather than having to wait until the next class session to receive feedback on your work. If a student shares their document with the teacher from the start of an assignment, the teacher is able to provide feedback throughout the process and suggestions for improvement so there should never be a shock of a low grade.

6. Collaborative reflection

Google Docs allows for interactive class reflections rather than solely independent ones, for example, collaborative journal writing.

7. Learning illustrated

Google Drawing is an app that students can use to create images in class to represent information visually.

8. Class inventory

Google Forms is an app that students and teachers can use for data collection. Teachers can use this resource for data collection on individual students, which can be shared with other teachers or administration.

9. Collaborative rubric construction

Students can be included in the process of preparing a rubric for an assignment. The rubric can be created and then shared on a Google Doc.

10. Website publishing

The Google cloud allows for streamlined access to blogger and Google Sites, which are quick and easy web publishing resources.

In Santucki’s review, he takes a closer look at an Apple Distinguised School, the Southwest Career and Technical Academy and how their staff and students implemented Google. Teachers used the Google calendar feature to create homework and classroom activities calendars for their courses (Santucki, 2012). This calendar could then be posted to the class website or the school website for students, parents, and even administration to access. The Southwest Career and Technical Academy saw a decrease in the necessity for extra parent teacher conferences because parents were always well informed on the happenings in each course (Santucki, 2012). Class notes, assignments, podcasts, handouts, PDF’s, and whole lessons can be attached to the calendar. Access to this material is helpful in assisting students who are absent catch up and students who need extra help doing their homework or reviewing content for an assessment.

Another Google App, which many are familair with is Google Maps. Since their launch in 2005, Google Maps and Google Earth have had an enormous impact on the way people think, learn, and work with geographic information (Dodsworth & Nocholson, 2012). Google maps and Google Earth are discovery tools, which can be used to create a virtual exhibit on a topic. For example, a literature class is studying the The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. With Google Earth, the teacher can take the students on a virtual field trip to explore the places along the Mississippi River, which they read about in the book. Students can interact with Google Earth in a unique way that they could not with a regular atlas. In Google Earth you can zoom in to see geographical features and details you would not see on an Atlas.

Google offers so many resources for different purposes and they have countless applications in the classroom setting. The best part is that they are free and a teacher can pick and choose what she wants to use to enhance the curriculum and encourage student participation.

Google Groups

“Google groups is a social networking tool that enables users to participate in online discussions by creating web pages specifically designed for a particular group” (Martin & Browning-Johnson, 2012). Google groups, which is also a part of the Cloud and attached to the e-mail account, is another free and easy to use resource offered that can be a part of the Google classroom. To setup, one person is the group owner (the teacher) and sets up the space by inputting the e-mails of those who should belong to the group. Once the group is set up, each member receives e-mail notification of their invitation to the group. In the Google group space, participants can join discussions, comment on each other’s posts, and share resources. When there is activity in the Google group(s) one belongs to, a notification e-mail is sent.

This resource, like all others that Google has to offer, has countless possibilities for use in the academic setting. Students and teachers can be members of more than one group. For example, students could have a Google group for their English class, for their Science class, and their Social Studies class. In these groups, teacher’s can post resources such as the presentation slides used for that day’s instruction so that students may access it again when needed. Links to web resources such as extra practice sites for a math class could be posted in the Google group for students to try at home. When a controversial topic is brought up in class and elicits a lot of conversation, a teacher could post the topic on the Google group site and ask the class to continue their conversation outside of class time, find evidence that supports their claims and post it to the group page, and comment on their peer’s thoughts and ideas. Once setup, Google groups can be used to stretch the classroom beyond the school setting.

Common Concerns

As a relatively new learning ecology, it is only natural that questions and concerns arise. One worry is that students will use the resource inappropriately or it will be more of a distraction than an aid to learning. This is a valid concern for any device as they are engaging and often fascinating resources for students and they want to interact with them. In the study described earlier at Adam Scott school, the teachers reported setting aside specific instructional time on how to and how not to use Google Apps (Nevin, 2009). Teachers should not assume that students know how to use the program and it is wise to lay the ground rules for proper use from the beginning rather than waiting to address issues once they happen. In addition to this instruction, a permission slip was sent home that students and parents had to sign.

Another concern that new Google users have is over data and personal information security. Since the Google cloud stores information on an external server, rather than on the hard drive of an individual device, users have questioned the safety of their content. In the study, there were no such cases found of student or teacher data security being compromised (Nevin, 2009). Nonetheless, to address these concerns, Google offers Prostini Services, which is used to maximize security. It can be set up to ensure that e-mail is only sent to addresses in an approved domain. Filters can catch inappropriate content in student e-mails, such as evidence of cyberbullying. Prostini also keeps deleted emails for auditing. This service also provides daily virus and spam checkers (Nevin, 2009).

Conclusions and Recommendations

My school is a Google school and my classroom is a Google classroom. We use G-mail, the e-mail feature, between teachers, administrators, students, and parents. Every student in the entire building (grades Kindergarten through eighth) has a G-mail account. Teacher and student e-mail addresses are easy to pull up when composing an e-mail or sharing something on the drive, all we have to do is type in the first or last name of the individual and their e-mail pops up. There is no need for an address book or remembering anyones e-mail address.

Whenever I have a link I want to share with my students for a class activity such as an article online or extra review practice for home, I e-mail the link and list the instructions in the e-mail. It is much easier for the students to click on the link in their e-mail than to type in the address from the board. I also like that they can keep the e-mail for as long as they want and go back to the resource whenever they want.

I use Google Docs with my students almost daily in several classes. In my Reading class, the students write extended responses a few times a week to the chapter or selection we have read. They share the document with their peers for peer editing and with me for review. I can see the revisions history, which is helpful for noting what types of corrections and suggestions students are making for their peers in the revision process. While the students work in class, I can have all of the screens up on my screen and check in on them without having to look over their shoulder. I sometimes read through what they have so far and make little comments at the bottom such as "don't forget to capitalize those proper nouns!" to guide them in the right direction throughout the writing process rather than waiting until the writing is submitted for review. If students cannot finish in the allotted amount of class time given, I like that they can continue working at another time from any device that is internet capable. I do not have to print any of their extended responses to grade them. As soon as they let me know they are finished, I can go in the drive, make my comments in the text, in the margins, and below. I will either give them a grade or ask them to make corrections and revisions based on my comments. The latter is a rare occassion because I have usually been able to give them guidance throughout the process as I watch them type their responses from my computer screen. The students can see their grades instantly and do not have to wait until the next class period to know how they did. Google Docs allows users to create and label files, which makes organization a less daunting task for students who usually don't know what to do with all of their papers from various classes. They keep everything for my class in a specific folder on their drive.

When Google drive and Google docs were new features for my students, it took longer to get set up and complete an assignment because I had to teach them how to use the system. I also had to go over the rules for responsible and appropriate use of the resource. They were especially excited about the chatting feature. Now that they have been using it for two years on a consistent basis, the whole process of logging in, creating new documents, and sharing has become just as fast and natural as taking out a textbook, spiral notebook, and setting up their paper with a heading.

The Google drive and Google docs have made my classroom a more efficient and collaborative place. The Google systems are easy to learn, are user friendly, and best of all, they are free for schools. I can feel confident that I am providing engaging and meaningful e-learning opportunities for my students in a Google classroom.


Denton, D. (2012). Enhancing Instruction through Constructivism, Cooperative Learning, and Cloud Computing. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 56(4), 34-41.

Dodsworth, E., & Nicholson, A. (2012). Academic Uses of Google Earth and Google Maps in a Library Setting. Information Technology & Libraries, 31(2), 102-117.

Martin, M., Browning-Johnson, R., & Mears, D. (2012). Google Groups. JOPERD: The Journal Of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 83(7),55-56.

Nevin, R. (2009). Supporting 21st Century Learning Through Google Apps. Teacher Librarian, 37(2), 35-38.

Roberts, S. (2013). The “Chalk Talk” 2.0: Using Google Docs to Improve the Silent Discussion in Social Studies. Social Studies, 104(3), 130-136.

Statucki, C. (2012). There's an App for That Google Apps for Education. Techniques: Connecting Education & Careers, 87(5), 8-9.