Jenn Lowton remembers the time she drove over her son’s USB drive. “It had his entire Senior Project on it,” Lowton said with a rueful laugh.
That won’t happen any more at Pinkerton Academy, where the school went Google this fall. Google Docs, Google Drive and Google Apps for Education are making it possible for students to save their work in a form that won’t be run over, lost or eaten by the cat, while also enabling them to communicate with each other in real time.
Lowton, the school’s Technology Integration Specialist, demonstrated the many aspects of Google one afternoon, with Chip Underhill, Executive Director of Public Relations, as her guinea pig. Using her son as an example, she said he attends a high school shared by “feeder towns.”
“When he’s assigned projects with a peer, and they’re in different towns, what do they do?” Lowton asked rhetorically. “Do they sit on the phone and go back and forth?”
That’s so 20th-century, Lowton said, and Google’s got something better. “What if they were able to type in their rooms, in two different towns, on the same document?” she asked.
This is possible with Google and she demonstrated it with Underhill and a sample “peer editing journal.” A letter “C” appeared in the upper right hand corner of Lowton’s laptop. “That’s for ‘Chip,’” she said. “He could be anywhere in the world.” More initials are added as more people participate, Lowton said, noting, “I could have 50 people on here.”
She demonstrated how she could type information into the document and how Underhill could edit her comments or add his own.
“You can both type together, or you can give someone ‘commenting rights,’” Lowton said. “I can change his ‘rights.’”
If they were writing a three-page paper together, one of the team could say “This doesn’t make sense.” And if Lowton liked the comment, she could accept the suggestion, she said.
This enables students, and adults, to work across classrooms, across towns and even across countries, she said.
She searched the Net for a few seconds and announced, “Here’s a cool project. In Manchester some students are corresponding with a class in Yugoslavia. They can jump on and see what their peer writer in Yugoslavia is saying.” There are plans to do something similar with Pinkerton Spanish classes, Lowton said.
The Google app also autosaves each version, she said. “It doesn’t ‘save’ a document over another one, like it does in Word,” she said. “It saves all your versions.”
“It’s all in a Web browser, and you can access it from your phone, computer, iPad, tablet, Kindle, whatever,” Lowton said.
Google is also improving Pinkerton’s ability to fill out and process forms, Lowton said. Gathering data in a Google form automatically sends it to a spreadsheet, she said. Teachers can use it to evaluate workshops or do classroom observations, and it was used successfully for this year’s Senior Biographies for the yearbook, according to Lowton.
“It can be used for charting, graphing, understanding data, mail merge, even creating flashcards,” Lowton said.
The system will be used for this year’s Blizzard Bag snow day lessons, she added.
Google was originally piloted on campus with 15 teachers, and then unpacked for the entire faculty in an all-campus Technical Institute, she said.
All Pinkerton students have Google accounts, but not all students are fully invested, Lowton said. But more students are starting to use the system as more teachers use it in the classroom, she added. “Today I received 100 password requests,” she said.
Students use a variety of devices, from school-provided Chromebooks to their own phones or tablets. They can access Google instantly, Lowton said, explaining that with a “brick and mortar” computer lab, you have to wait to log into the network, wait for the anti-virus to load, and so forth. “With Chromebook you’re in, on and up,” she said.
Pinkerton’s sending schools are all using Google, Lowton added, and the school’s use of Google will give them a seamless transition.