Hanging out with Google and my class

Sharing work with peers in a different class has a number of benefits. When this class is also in a different school, in a different country, the benefits can be significantly greater.

This blog is a continuation of the work done with my year 9 (8th grade) class at the Stephen Perse Foundation in Cambridge, UK. We are studying issues related to ‘development’ and have been looking at a variety of different countries – just what you would expect in a normal geography class. The initial ideas are explained in my global learning journey post. It is a natural step to want to speak to other people in other countries about these matters – after all, if we are in a digitally connected classroom this sort of thing should be extremely easy, shouldn’t it?

What happened?

Volunteers (around half of the class) chose the topics that they would like to discuss. Groups were allocated to each of three key topics that emerged – healthcare, military spending and debt. A document (a Google Doc) was prepared on each topic which was shared with the US class in advance. This was work done at the initiative of the students with some initial teacher input – guided learning.

The Google Hangout (think Skype but recorded and also with shared documents to view online at the same time) was arranged at a convenient time – morning registration / tutor time in St Louis, USA (8am) which handily coincided with my class’s lesson time in the UK (2pm).

Hangout_folder_-_Google_Drive
shared Google Drive folder

The hangout link was tested in advance and the googledocs placed into a shared folder that was linked to the hangout.

Hangout on Air was chosen in order than it could be recorded directly to YouTube for future reference.

Benefits:

1. accountability – asking a question and handling answers, live on air, means that the students are really put on the spot. There is nowhere to hide! It’s a little intimidating to start with but students are eager to step up to the mark and deliver.

2. credibility – learning about another place is so much more real if the students can speak to people in that other place. Geography deals with current issues – it makes sense to engage with them directly where possible. This is a great benefit to the credibility of the subject matter in the eyes of the students.

3. pride – students’ work, live to their peers, online & showcased. It doesn’t get much more powerful than this!

4. sharing – it’s recorded direct to YouTube. An unlisted link on there gives a resource to use with the class for follow-up work or revision. In this case, the 20 minute hangout was edited in iMovie to 5 minutes with some titles added to remind the classes of what it was all about. The unlisted link was then shared with the class in St Louis, USA.

5. collaboration – my class had to collaborate with each other to organise the materials as well as during the hangout itself. It is also a very clear example of collaboration between schools that shows students and other teachers the possibilities of such links.

St_Louis_hangout_-_YouTube-2
Hangout on Air – set up using Google+

Lessons learnt:

1. Check and recheck the Hangout link – if your school is on GAFE (Google Apps for Education) you will need to check that the settings are enabled such that Google Hangout with a domain outside the school is possible. Also, that Google Hangout on Air is enabled.

2. Set the rules of the room – background noise is a problem!

3. You have 20 minutes of Hangout on Air before the recording stops automatically – set a timer!

4. Be aware that even the best prepared students are likely to be very nervous when live ‘on air’. Make sure they have prepared a script, especially if this is their first time. They will grow in confidence and next time they will be more relaxed.

5. Have a very clear outcome in mind – the experience is probably just as important as the knowledge that is gained. It is the experience that will best equip the students for life – how many conference calls will they have to make when they are in their 20s? Far more than I ever did, that is for sure – it is an important skill and one that improves with time.

6. Check your own (and the other school’s) policies for internet safety / safeguarding. The normal policy might be that students should not use their full name when they are being recorded onto YouTube (or equivalent). If there is any concern, just make sure the YouTube upload is unlisted – it means the video cannot be discovered in a normal search. You have to be given the full URL to find have access. If you are really paranoid, make it a private upload which is only visible if you are actually signed in to that YouTube account.

7. Set the room and brief the students. Have groups of 2 or 3 in front of the webcam at a time – safety and confidence in numbers! Make sure there is then a small group supporting them, feeding in questions or answers in case they stumble. The rest of the class can make some simple notes either individually or in pairs – a shared Google Doc is ideal for this. Everyone has something to do.

Outcome

Overall, the experience was certainly memorable. Appreciating that there are students in other countries with whom it is possible to have a dialogue makes the learning come alive. This first hangout was more an opportunity for them to air their questions and to get used to speaking with confidence on a topic that they had been studying. In the end, this is probably one of the most useful experiences that we can give as educators – something that is memorable and equips the students for life ahead.

Thanks to Mary Institute and St Louis County Day School, Missouri, USA and to their organising teacher, David Doherty (@daviddoherty02) and Daniel Edwards (@syded06) at the Stephen Perse Foundation for helping to make it all happen.

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