Using Google tools in the online classroom
As some of you may know, in addition to my role at Pocketables, I also teach part time in the humanities department at my local community college. Last semester, I successful completed an online teaching practicum, which is required before I can start teaching online. And now I am teaching my first online summer course.
I thought long and hard about the type of online classroom I wanted to create, and the kind of environment I wanted to cultivate, and after lots of deliberation and self-reflection, I decided to settle on using a set of Google tools to aid me in my pedagogical goals. (Anyone who has followed Pocketables for a while knows I’m a Google nut, so I’m not sure why it took me so long to decide to use Google tools in my online class!)
I hope to write a few more posts throughout the summer semester, detailing what is working and what’s not. But to start out, let me explain what I’m using and what I hope my students will get out of it.
The class blog is designed to be a fun yet intellectually stimulating way to explore more deeply the ideas from the textbook and the Blackboard discussion boards. Students will be required to post to the blog several times throughout the semester, and to read and comment on each others’ blog posts. I have given my students several themes from which they can choose when writing blog posts, but the main idea here is to connect the topics we study to their lives and to current events. I’m hoping that the blog is successful and fun for my students!
One of the reasons I chose Blogger is because the built-in blog in Blackboard just doesn’t have nearly the same features. In Blogger, students can sign up to be notified of new posts and new comments, they can schedule posts ahead of time, and they can share the blog with people who aren’t even in the class.
I decided early on that I wanted to add all students to a private Google Hangout. The purpose of this is to give the students a chance to chat with each another about the course readings and the topics we are studying in a more informal and ungraded format. Students will be able to ask each other questions and ask me for help, or simply comment on something that struck them while completing their homework. I plan to also make myself available in the Hangout at predetermined times throughout the semester for virtual “office hours” and general chat.
During those “office hours,” I may invite interested students to a group video Hangout on Air. Unfortunately, only nine people can join a video Hangout at once, so there is a potential that some students could be excluded. At the same time, an unlimited number of students will be able watch the video on YouTube, and my hope is that students will come and go throughout the video Hangout to make room for others.
Why did I choose Hangouts over Skype? Up until recently, Skype charged for the ability to do group video calls. With Hangouts, no one pays anything, and you can add practically unlimited participants to a text Hangout.
Instead of using Blackboard’s built-in calendar (which I hate), I’ve made a special calendar for my students in Google Calendar that contains all of their assignments and due dates. When I make changes to the calendar, students will see this reflected immediately. Plus, it’s easy for them to add the calendar to their own Google accounts, or subscribe in iCalendar or some other calendar software. Hopefully, it will help my students (and me!) stay organized throughout the semester.
This should go without saying, but YouTube actually has a great number of academically sound videos that I want my students to watch. I play YouTube videos all the time in face to face classes, so why not online, too? Plus, YouTube apps are available on phones and tablets, on media streaming devices like the Chromecast, and more – so students can watch these videos on their terms.
I’ll keep you updated how the semester is going, but I’m excited to be using so many awesome Google tools in my classroom … and maybe even converting a few people over to Google, as well!