Google for Education
In this case study, Emma Ferris, Google Leader; Chris Lickfold, Assistant Headteacher; and Eleanor Hicks, Director of Extra-Curricular and Key Stage 3 Music at Tring School, share how technology has supported effective collaboration in their school.
The vision for our use of Google Suite was primarily focused on its impact in the classroom, as it is vital that everything we do in relation to technology has a positive effect on our pupils’ learning experience. In 2015, when we first started to look into using chromebooks and G Suite, we were facing a lack of engagement from middle ability boys, increasing financial constraints and a desire to prepare our pupils for the 21st Century world of work. We had researched the impact of classroom collaboration and the positive results this showed in terms of pupil progress. We knew this would have a positive impact for our learners and valued the simplicity that G Suite offers.
One of the key documents we used during our research was The Impact of Digital Technologies on Learning (2012), which states that the use of technology should support collaboration and make learning more interactive: “The use of computer and digital technologies is usually more productive when it supports collaboration and interaction, particularly collaborative use by learners or when teachers use it to support discussion, interaction and feedback.” This helped us to clarify and prioritise showing teachers and students how they could collaborate using G Suite.
Our key focus was how we could develop our use of technology to impact teaching and learning. We needed to explore where and how we could have the biggest successes within the curriculum. Through our research, we found that collaboration could be key to this. We began by looking at collaboration more generally through the EEF toolkit on collaboration, and we used that research evidence to inform and support our move to use of technology.
At the time we were looking at introducing more technology into the classroom and eventually moving one-to-one, we felt the Office 365 product didn’t match what G Suite and chromebooks could offer at the time. We had also trialled iPads in the school but discounted them due to cost and we found they weren’t as easy to manage or use at school. We wanted a device with a keyboard if students were going to be using it a lot. We also found a lot of similar schools during our research visits who had been on similar journeys of trialling iPads/Office 365 before settling on G Suite and chromebooks. The relationships established during these visits became a form of professional collaboration for staff and we still maintain close contact with several of these schools.
Through our use of G Suite, we have improved collaboration both in the classroom and between staff. One of the key features of G Suite that we were quick to embrace is the ability to share documents and resources. This formed a major part of initial training sessions for both staff and students.
Shared documents have helped facilitate more group work. Groups of students can work on one document simultaneously, and tools such as the in-built version history and extensions like Draftback allow the teacher to see exactly who has contributed, how much and when. Furthermore, group work is no longer confined to the school building or hours.This allows for greater collaboration, made so much easier by chromebooks and G Suite. This is a fantastic development for all our students, but particularly supports our disadvantaged students who may previously have struggled to participate in group projects.
Through Google Classroom, students are better equipped to support each other. They are able to share resources, which is not only an example of improved collaboration, but has also increased engagement and student-led learning. Teachers no longer have to suggest group work or sharing ideas. It has become part of the normal working habits of our students to share with each other and work together.
Feedback is another area that has been positively affected by improved collaboration. Features such as comments on Google Docs mean that students can ask for and receive feedback on their work while they are completing it, rather than having to wait until they have completed their task. As they act on this feedback while drafting their work, students’ work has improved and the conversation between students and teachers has become significantly more meaningful. This style of feedback is not just limited to teacher-student conversations, but is also conducive to meaningful peer assessment.
For staff, the ability to share documents has improved workflow and, in many cases, saved time. Teaching staff share resources with each other and these can be personalised for each class easily. Having one document to work on school policies, letters, collection and presentation of data means that support staff are also able to save time and work together more efficiently and cost-effectively.
While we firmly believe collaboration has impacted all students, there were initially some teething issues with shared documents and collaboration during lessons. For example, in a GCSE MFL lesson, students all worked on one document to write a paragraph each, with the idea that students could easily peer assess but also use each other’s work for support. Although the theory of using this for peer support and interaction was sound, the practicalities meant that students tried to edit the same part of the same document, causing a great deal of confusion. Students also soon realised that they were able to interact with one another, something that needed careful monitoring. However, as we have developed our knowledge and use of G Suite, we have come up with solutions to these issues, such as sharing a slide deck where each student works on one slide only, creating a table in a shared document, where students each have their own cell in which to work, and the use of version history to help monitor contributions.
In an annual staff survey in July 2018, 99% of teachers felt the use of chromebooks was having a positive impact in terms of the resources available to students.When asked to name the best feature of chromebooks and Google, a significant number of teachers commented on the opportunities for collaboration. Students also mentioned the positives that collaboration offered them in their annual survey in December 2017.
Peer-to-peer support has enriched learning and aided student progress. This is not only within school but also in collaborative work outside of school, which was much harder to achieve before the introduction of G Suite and chromebooks.
Being able to collaborate with ease has helped our students to communicate more effectively with their peers. Learners who are not always heard can write their ideas down with confidence and others can learn from their responses. Students’ writing has improved as they can read model answers written by peers and teach their peers more regularly than they could before. As sharing work is much easier, students are more confident about what a high-level response looks like. Exam boards do not share 30 example answers every lesson, but that’s okay - we can now write and share our own in moments!
- G Suite - a free cloud-based technology with multiple technology solutions
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- How might these approaches be applied in your own context to solve a challenge you’ve identified?
If you’re interested in exploring the use of Google tools for collaboration, you may be interested in taking a look at the ‘how to’ video linked below and created by Kieran Briggs.
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