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my thoughts

Sam Tries Tech Part 1: Google Tools in Two Settings

I’m currently working in two different classrooms. The first is a high-school setting similar to an after-school programs in that it is not part of their core curriculum and we only meet once a week; the purpose of the course is to teach sociolinguistics, research skills and social activism. There are about 17 English Language Learner (ELL) students ranging from 9th to 12th grade from various linguistic backgrounds. The other setting is a college-level course section for a lower division course in Asian American studies that meets once a week for discussion and twice for lecture. Some of the students are taking the course as a general education requirement, while others are using it to fulfill their Asian American studies major. Both courses despite the different demographics in students and content heavily emphasize group project work—a decision made in the first case by the predetermined curriculum and in the second by the course instructor. In this post I’m just going to share some of my thoughts and ideas about how the tools we’ve discussed so far have either helped or hindered the group-work that we have engaged in so far and then in later posts I’ll share any updates. To be honest, my use of technology has been fairly uncreative—Google Tools for the most part—but the different in settings really has highlighted how technological tools are not a one-size-fits-all treatment.

In both courses, I’ve used Google Slides for my presentation—I used to not use multimedia presentations at all, but some of my early ESCI’s critiqued my avoidance of these tools—and surprise, surprise, the students were right! Now I almost always use slides and include some visual or audio element—I think this just goes back to Mayer’s principles—where previously I relied only on words/narration when students really also require multimedia cues to help them embed the information. Particularly I would have been saved from these negative reviews if I had known about the segmenting principle—that people learn better from a multimedia lesson is presented in user-paced segments—instead of subjecting students to repetitive group discussions. The slide-by-slide format of Google’s presentation tool naturally lends itself to this kind of pacing and I’ve gotten in to the habit of making the content of each slide different—if one asks a question, then the next will have a video, and the next will have a graph or chart, etc. This has been a particularly successful strategy for both classroom settings.

Google Forms has been another frequent go-to for me for both of these courses. In the college course, I used it to measure and record group opinions about the topics for their group project rather than engaging in the face-threatening task of just stating one’s preferred topic in which case more timid people might get stepped on or overruled. For the most part its worked great but in for three back-to-back sections, it takes some finagling to keep each sections answers distinct—I know I could Qualtrics to avoid this, but I find that it’s not as user-friendly as Google Forms and I prefer reliability in this case. Google Forms was also particularly helpful for a very stressful and delicate issue that I’ve been having to deal with in the high school class. While doing a needs analysis we gave a survey on Google Forms to the students to ask them about their experiences in ELD. In the first round they had some very strange responses—like “I don't know” or “I don't want to say.” We realized that the students weren’t aware that Google Forms allows for anonymity, so the next time, we emphasized that anything they said would not have their name attached. The second round of surveys proved to be very insightful. It turns out that in this particular class, students have had very experiences with their regular teacher—it is supposed to be an English Language Development (ELD) class, but very little (no) English instruction takes place—some of the students didn’t even realize that it was an ELD course and thought it was just homeroom because they never do work. They could never tell us these things in person because their teacher was always present in the room, but by providing them with this anonymized format and assurance they were able to share a lot of thing that they had previously been holding in.

Finally, Google Docs has been quite useful, not so much for the high school course yet, but certainly for the undergraduate course. Early on, when students are crashing or waitlisted for a course, they don’t have access to the course’s page on the school’s learning management system. Then they start to get behind, or you have to individually add them one by one—and when you have seventy-five plus crashers, that can get tedious—instead, I used Google Docs for all of my class materials (you could turn a doc into a LMS if you house all of your links there), and it’s even easier to share with students with a customized tinyurl (ex:—not to mention, this method is much more eco-friendly than printing sixty paper syllabi. My most recent application of Google Docs was as a sign-up sheet for… duh duh duh duh! Group work! I had students spilt into groups by roles this week, and it was such a breeze to give them the link and tell them to sign up where they wanted to work. In my own undergraduate experience, this was always done on paper, and so much depended on where you were sitting that day, but this way students can see where their other classmates go immediately and can respond accordingly.

I know this is all kind of basic but there’s more incorporation of technology and updates to come. In the next post I’m going to discuss why I have a no phone/lap top policy in one of the courses while I don’t in another. Can you guess which one is which?

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