Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Gaining Google Knowledge from GAFE Webinar

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I just want to start off saying that I had no idea what "GAFE" was before listening to this webinar. I have always been a very strong Google supporter and consider myself fairly knowledgeable in all things Google, so when I found this archived webinar, I knew I had to give it a listen. 

This webinar was hosted by Classroom 2.0 Live, and the guest was Google-certified instructor Lisa Thumann. She quickly took the group through the "20 Need-To-Know Features of GAFE You Should be Using Today." Thankfully she explained what GAFE was before she started; Google Apps for Education. Turns out I have been using them for years, I just didn't know it! 

I won't go into everything Lisa explained, but my favorite topics she covered were image editing in Google Docs, Slides, etc., Google search and research in Docs, and canned messages in Gmail. Instead of having to open up a third-party application or program to edit a photo that you want to use in a Google Doc or Presentation, you now have extensive options to crop, edit, resize, etc, any photo you'd like to include. I'm always struggling to switch between programs to present and edit photos, so I'm very excited about this. She also explained that you can now do a Google search directly in Google Docs. You can highlight text and instead of hyperlinking to a link you already have, you can put keywords into the search bar and search for a relevant link to use. Likewise, if you highlight a certain word or phrase and right click on it, you have the option to "research" that phrase. A sidebar will pop up that shows you websites, definitions, pictures, etc, that are relevant to what you're trying to learn more about. One other thing that I thought was really neat was the canned responses in Gmail. Basically, you can preset email messages, so if you send a lot of the same type of emails over and over, you can insert a canned response so you don't always have to type everything out again. I didn't even know this existed! Like I said, Lisa went into much greater detail on many more Google-related features, but those were some of the ones that were new or interesting to me. 

Google is incredibly valuable to education in our 21st Century classrooms. I'm not sure there are many classrooms who have not accessed Google in some way, and I'm amazed every time Google comes out with another feature that can be used in education. It not only makes it easier for students to create, share, and learn, but it also helps the teacher communicate and collaborate with other teachers, parents, and students. It helps all users be more productive, and gives easy solutions to problems that may be much more difficult to tackle on any other software. 

I am proud to say that my future students will be avid Google users. I love how much I can accomplish with the help of Google, and I know there is so much I still have to learn.  I love that everything is streamlined and simple, and I'm excited for the increased functionality and productivity that Docs, Gmail, and all the Google Apps have. I think that my students will greatly benefit from using Google Apps, and I'm so excited to learn how to use these tools with my students! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Global Collaboration with the Global Youth Debates

Photo used with permission from
Not often do you get the chance to interact with people across the world , let alone work with them, but that is what I got to do. I volunteered to be a judge in the Global Youth Debates, a Flat Connections global project that creates a global experience for students to practice global interactions through debate.

I participated in the practice debates, as well as round 1 of the real, scored debates. It was very helpful to be part of the practice debate, because this was the first time I had ever been in a debate like this. Granted, I wasn't actually the one debating, but the students benefited from the practice as much as I did. The practice debate I judged was a little rough, but I was supposed to interact with other people from around the globe to judge the debate collaboratively. The students were debating against a school on the other side of the globe, and I was judging with people on the other side of the globe.

This is much easier said than done. While the concept of the Global Youth Debates was very interesting and unique, it was extremely difficult to collaborate with someone you've never met and can't talk with in real time. It was hard to communicate with the people I was assigned to work with, and I never really got to talk with them directly. I completed my portion of the debates, but my group was never really able to complete the debate as it was meant to be done. We were supposed to comment together, come to a consensus about how the debate went and score it, then each leave our own comments on the VoiceThread that the students were debating on. This was all well and good, but we ran into problems as far as being able to complete the judging in enough time to talk about it together, so we really weren't able to make that collaboration factor work.

For the first global collaborative project I've been a part of, I really enjoyed it, even though it turned out to be sort of unsuccessful. If anything, it taught me how hard it can be to coordinate collaboration on a global scale, even though it is extremely rewarding if it can be successful. Global collaboration is an amazing tool to help students (and teachers!) think globally and consider the people in the world as assets and friends, not as enemies or competitors.