Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Google Teacher's Academy

In the last week of the holidays (what already feels like months ago) I attended the Google Teachers Academy. I know I've been tardy in writing about it (apologies to my three dedicated readers :-) but I wanted to let the experience mull before I worked out what the value was and how to pass that information along.

The plan for the day (there was a second part day that was an optional unconference but more about that later) was a pyramid scheme for training. Attendees were shown a flythrough of Google Tools at a cracking pace so that we could all go home and investigate further and then redeliver much of this training at a more sedentary pace to our colleagues and community with a view to expanding Google's market. This sounds a little cynical but I'm not. It was a wonderful experience and being a generally busy person it was nice to have the time to explore some of the labs projects and new features that I had on my ToDo list to explore. I also think that unlike in sales (where it's usually considered a scam)a pyramid scheme works really well for training and in a perfect world reaches an extraordinary number of people.

The tools we covered were Google Search (inc books, scholar, news archive and wonder wheel), Google Sites, Blogger, Gmail, Google Docs (and spreadsheets), Google Earth and Maps and the CR48 chrome laptop. We also heard from half a dozen or so teachers about innovative uses for the tools in the classroom. To be honest I agree with Chris Betcher (@betchaboy) in his blog post; I would have preferred more of the innovative ideas and less of the tools stuff. I have reflected as people have asked me again and again what I most took away from the day and for me it seemed to always be the presentations of the other teachers. I find that although I do not know everything about Google Tools I can find out anything I want to know with only the highest overview of what's possible. I think the most valuable part of the Tools training was the link to the GTApps for Ed training site where I can explore at my leisure.

That said I have listed here the coolest things I discovered at the training sessions. You may already know about all of these (I knew about most) but I thought they were cool. (Note: I couldn't link to the stuff from the actual conference but I searched for similar information and have linked to it)

Google news archive search

Google wonder wheel

Library search

Click on Find in a library

Google Earth Lit Trips

Google sites as intranets and collaborative tools

Multiple calendars

Making gmail work for you

Google spaces

The spaces in the Googleplex were amazing. The majority of people seemed to still sit at a standard desk with normal chair and work just like the rest of us but then there were meeting rooms with interesting d├ęcor and configurations, sleep pods, quiet cubby holes for research, reading rooms, meditation spaces and console gaming equipment too. It gave an interesting insight into what you can do to get the most out of smart, dedicated people. We should be investigating this in our school spaces.

20% Time

If you didn't already know, Google allows their people 20% of their time to work on a project that interests them. The idea is that you get more out of people overall if you give them time to spend usefully in a way that they want. This aligns with Dan Pink's book Drive (and talk on TED). It's also something I think we should be investigating for students.

At the end of the day we were all asked to go home and think of a project that we could achieve this year involving Google Tools which would allow us to evangelise their use to others. I think that rather than send us away with this task the team could have make this the focus of the day. I met most of the attendees and they were all smart, passionate, techie teachers and if Google had asked us to do some prep work in the form of reading up on tools and their possibilities and then set us the task to come up with a project either in groups or individually with the Lead Learners always floating and available to answer questions on their area of expertise we would have achieved more. We could have bounced ideas off each other and collaborated in a way that is much more difficult when the difficulties of distance and the pressures of the school term begin once again.

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