So many updates, so little time!

This guest post was written by Andy Waters @peorbust.

Pic 1 app updates

Do you know what the one thing working with Google Apps For Education is that bugs me? You never know when an update is going to happen or even if it has happened! New things just keep appearing! I am currently loving the new Forms and some of the new features of classroom are amazing but wouldn’t it be nice if Google just shouted out a little bit and said “Hey, look what we have done! I think you are going to like it!” But no, we have to wait until someone notices something and starts talking about it.

The New Style Google Forms

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The new forms are much more user friendly and allow you to create fully customizable forms with data that can be analysed straight from the form itself. Responses are in a tab at the top of the form and can be accessed directly from it. No longer do you need to have a sheet linked directly to the form (you still can!) and I suppose it must be going on in the background but it just doesn’t fill like it does. This allows you to quickly see what responses you have and to get a snapshot of what the data coming in looks like. A slide button at the top of the response tab also allows you to turn off the “Accepting responses button”. When setting Home Study on Forms this feature allows me to have a time when I can literally stop taking answers.
The form can finally be fully customizable with the ability now to add pictures in a banner style at the top of a form. Stock pictures come with a background colour to help blend in the picture but you can also choose your own pictures from your Google Albums or select the straight from your computer. This gives a much more professional look to the forms and will encourage many more schools to start using them.

The new style forms also tell you how many responses you have received per question and for the first question, converts the responses into a pie chart. I have not been able to find anyway of customising this feature yet or to change it to another question. But I am sure in a couple of weeks or months I will be able to do this! I love how easily I can print off the responses and use them when having meeting with parents or when giving feedback to students on Home Study completed on Forms.
All of the favourite parts of the old forms are still there: different types of questions, being able to insert pictures and videos and of course if you switch over to the sheets view you can still link in the forms with Scripts such as Flubaroo which can then mark the responses based on a key. For anyone that has not used this yet, try it! It is an awesome feature of Forms that I have based an entire Key stage Home study on.

So, overall, the new style of Forms look pretty good with some excellent new features. But more updates are likely to happen soon and then they will become truly indispensable to any school who use GAFE.

Google Classroom

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Just like forms, Google classroom also gets updated on a regular basis with very little fanfare! Most recently the updates have included being able to incorporate a shared Google calendar that comes fully loaded with assignment deadlines already listed, the ability to copy grades that you have given students within classroom into sheets and into your personal grade book and the ability to ask short questions actually in the comment stream. This last feature is one of my favourites at the moment. It allows teachers to check understanding really easily and quickly and to put any interventions into place if necessary. You can adjust the settings to allow students to see the answers from their peers and even allow them to see and reply to their classmates answers. For me, this is really powerful. Peer to peer feedback is really popular amongst my students and when moderated sensibly can have a big impact on the way the students answer and interpret questions.

Another feature that is building the popularity of Google classroom is the new share to classroom extension. This is an extension that allows the teacher to push a webpage to all of the students in their Google Classroom. For younger students this means that the teacher and TA’s will save a massive amount of time as they will not have to input URL manually. It also stops the ten minutes or so normally spent making sure that everyone is on the same page. For older students it allows the teacher to share specific information quickly and easily. This allows you to turn a quick thought during a class discussion to a shared point of reference. The potential is endless. Both teaches and students all need to have the extension loaded onto their computers and this can be done by GAFE administrators centrally to the whole domain.
On a more serious note, I do recommend that if you are teaching a group and using classroom you invite another teacher to be in the group as well. This seems like a sensible idea and with private messaging just becoming enabled in classroom I think teachers should be doing everything they can to safeguard themselves

To finish this post I wanted to quickly talk about classrooms. Not Google classroom but the actual classrooms that we teach in. As we move into a mobile age of technology I am thinking more and more about how I am setting up my teaching space. Having tables fixed in lines seems very outdated and if you take Google’s example from their Head office, flexible working spaces seem to be the way forward to maximise productivity. Imagine having individual tables that move easily and can be grouped together when needed or separated for individual work. Workstations with Chrome books on for students that want to research right then and there and the breaking down of set conventions of how students learn. How good would it feel to set a problem, provide all the resources they might need and let them fly. Scary…yes, but would it work? It seems to work for Google so why not for our students?

If you have any questions about anything in the post please feel free to leave a comment below.

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