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Assessing NCEA with Google Docs

Unless you are French you will remember 2011 as a the year New Zealand hosted the Rugby World Cup and that it was victorious in the sense that the All Blacks won, and also that as a nation we hosted the event with pride and passion that only the kiwi's could.  It was also the year that I first attempted to use google apps to teach and assess a level 2 NCEA standard.  The standard 2.6 required students to look at the effects that the Rugby World Cup (or any other international sporting event) has on self, others and society.  There was a endless amount of information and opinion about the RWC and how it was going to effect the country, this was the information that the students needed to enable them to write the report but it was really a case of filtering through the noise to get clear information.  As a keen reader of blogs and digital information I had a bit of a brainwave and came up with a cunning plan….

1) Look for reliable and useful resources with fact and opinion concerning the impact that the RWC will have on NZ.
2) Collect that information and make it presentable to the students in a way that they could access it anywhere and at anytime.
3) Utilise social learning so students could work together remotely while also being under the watchful eye of the teacher.
4) Students then complete the assessment tasks online in class and during their own time.
5) Mark and assess student work online, providing appropriate feedback.

This is how I went about it…

I enlisted the help of google reader to aggregate all relevant information from international websites.  (Read my guide of how to set up and use google reader to collect school resources here.)  I used the 'New Zealand Herald' and the 'Guardian' from the UK as well as the 'The Australian' to input into my RWC feed.  Over the several months leading up to the RWC I read all the filtered articles - useful ones were given a 'star' in google reader and unhelpful ones were cast to the wayside never to be read again in this day and age of disposable journalism!  At the end of the period I had a folder organised by google reader that was full of starred articles.  Brilliant current and relevant information from all over the world!  

I then exported the documents as PDF's using the 'send to google docs' plugin and uploaded them to google documents - with the relevant tags and titles (do that here!).  This is where I went live with the project and set the students some tasks to do online.  Signing up and creating the accounts was almost a lesson in itself but once they were all online and in front of their email all they had to do was read the message I sent them and follow the instructions.  (for a guide to set up group class mailing lists click here)  I wanted the boys to be able to look at the same document and make comments on it - google document allows this from the comment button on the top left of the screen (see how to create and share documents in drive with my guide here!)

......and before me unfolded my first experience of live comments and interaction between students and relevant material - all comments available for everyone to see for eternity!  After another lesson going through the documents in groups the students had a homework task to complete a table with the impact the RWC had on 'Self, Others and Society'.  This ended up working really well as all the students collaborated on one document and it was easy for them to see what had been written by others - those who left the H/W to the last minute had to think a little harder to come up with something meaningful to add to the table.  It was the perfect balance of peer pressure and competition to motivate the students - I could also highlight and praise students that had already completed the homework in class lessons before the due date.

The main body of work the students had to complete was an essay summarising all the information they had worked on and expanding on the table that they all collaborated on.  This work was done on a single document that I created, students copied and then shared with me.  I could see and comment on the work as well as the student, this was great for monitoring progress and seeing who really had made a start or who was leaving it to the last minute.  By this stage in the project all problems had been ironed out with logging on and access to the computers, the students were familiar with the technology and I was amazed when a student was online at the same time as me and initiated a chat about ways to improve his essay!!!  

After the due date I could mark the essays using comments and ask the students to check them again, if any pieces of work needed to be moderated I could print them out and present a physical copy to the NCEA - all my comments would also print out.  

On reflection it was a successful foray into the world of digital learning and after questioning the students most of them enjoyed the opportunity and said they would like to do more projects this way.  Overall I found the main advantages to be:

  • Ability to collect wide range of relevant resources over a long period of time (google reader).
  • Cut through the some of the useless noise on the world wide web and provide the students with plenty of resources to feed their need for information with google drive. (Usually when a research lesson is planned on the internet the students end up looking at pictures of nike air max and 'bikinis' on google images!)
  • Real time student/student/teacher collaboration using resources.
  • Student work is constantly saved.
  • No wasted paper (I filtered and used over 100 multiple page articles for this project, a couple of trees would have been sacrificed in the name of the NCEA to provide them all with the access they had digitally).
  • Encouraged a culture of social learning - students worked well together in different rooms, houses and parts of the country.
  • Students could complete work at anytime (several boys were in the 1st XV and had to travel away on trips and missed school on fridays - I could email them the work they had to catch up on at the weekend so they were ready and prepared for Monday's lesson).
  • Student work is in the 'drive' for years to come - I can pull it up at anytime to use as an example for future students, without having to sift through boxes and boxes of old papers.
There were some disadvantages as well;
  • Hardware issues - all students logging on to the same document at once really lagged on the system at some times - this was only really evident in the first lesson, students logged on at different times from then on.  Our school has recently had the SNUP upgrade so may not be an issue in the future.
  • Some students didn't have internet or computers at home so had to do work in school library, limiting their access to the information.

Although it is impossible for me to tell if the results achieved using google documents were better than using traditional pen and paper methods, I feel the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages - and the benefits in saving resources, time and effort for teacher and student are a huge step forward in educating in the 21st Century.  I am looking forward to working with google drive again and will be employing this method for future achievement standards.


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