Thursday, 21 January 2016

Google Drive and ELT

It all started with my Skype students in mind

I originally stumbled across Google Drive when I was looking for a place to do some writing activities with my Skype students who are English language learners. I wasn't satisfied with the way we were together during lessons in relation to writing activities, or with having to mail documents back and forth. I'd been using PiratePad and EtherPad and although they were a good solution for the short-term, I still needed a tool that was just more than a collaborative writing space.

I'd also previously explored quite a number of whiteboards that were compatible with Skype but the few that interested me were either too expensive or weren't compatible with MAC. However on reflection, whiteboards would not have satisfied all of my needs either. After sitting down and drawing up an evaluation plan, it became clear that I was searching for a tool that would enable me to:

  • create a synchronous and asynchronous writing space
  • have a place where students could exercise their creativity 
  • manage and archive documents
  • have an environment where students could work individually and collaboratively
  • present work
  • maintain an overview of what work has been covered and that is also accessible to students at any time for review and revision
In this respect, I've found Google Drive to be invaluable. It's now a tool that has become part of my daily teaching with my Skype students and my face-to-face students.

When reflecting on the various information and communication technologies that I integrate into English language teaching, Google Drive has become a tool that I wouldn't like to be without. So what do I find so special about it and how do I use it?

Creating Folders 

Whenever I commence with a new student or a group of students, irrespective of whether they are face-to-face or Skype learners I create a folder in Google Drive for them. Within that folder I usually open four core documents headed:

  • My Writing Space (I substitute 'my' with the student's name)
  • My Learning Journal
  • Useful links for language learning
  • Collaborative Work

The document My Writing Space, is used for any type of writing task that is assigned as a pre or post class activity, or for extended writing tasks during the lesson. I monitor this work between lessons, correct where necessary and provide links for further exploration based on the requirements of each individual's needs. Students within specific groups have access to each others' work and appreciate the benefits of being able to make the most of the extra resources that I provide for each student. I find that enabling the students to see each others' work, motivates them to take more care with their writing and to self-correct, literacy skills allowing.

Over the course of time, students build up quite a portfolio and can see for themselves where improvements are being made or not. Based on the work carried out here, I can adapt lessons and realign learning objectives to suit my students' needs.

My Learning Journal is a space where students can reflect on the language learning process. I encourage them to jot down a few sentences on a daily basis as a means of getting them into the habit of writing. Although this space is intended for reflection on their language learning, I don't interfere if students choose to write about other topics. I don't explicitly correct work here, but I do keep an eye out for any errors that are consistently being made and address these in class. As with My Writing Space, I find the students' Learning Journals useful when planning lessons as they provide insight into areas of interest and activities that they enjoy as well as enabling me to identify problem areas.

Useful links for language learning is just that. This document might contain links to online dictionaries, corpus linguistic tools, audio books, videos and sites where students can engage in extra language learning activities. Therefore, these links and resources will vary for every group or individual student. Sometimes I can copy and paste links from one document to the next and then modify the text according to the students' level of English. This relates in particular to online dictionaries and corpus linguistic tools. However, in other cases links are very specific e.g. legal dictionaries, which are only of interest to specific students.

It's worth noting here that when I provide a link to a tool or a resource, I demonstrate how to use it in class and provide plenty of opportunities for students to explore these for themselves. Experience has taught me that I shouldn't assume that students know how to make the most of the affordances of digital tools for learning. It's better to explore the tools together and give students a few tasks so that they have the opportunity to show their understanding of them in class. I also ask for feedback concerning the usefulness of certain tools and whether the students have other preferences that they would like to share with the class.

The document titled Collaborative Work is a space where I work with students and where students work together. These types of tasks might take place during class, or as pre or post lesson activities. It depends on the nature and purpose of the task. Students can use this space to review what has been covered during the course of a term. Once again, this space assists me in planning for future lessons and for assessment.

Advantages of Google Drive

Despite the documents within each folder being used for different purposes, all of them serve as spaces that support and promote learning. On the whole, as a teacher I have a very good overview of the work that we have covered during a particular period of time. Through regular monitoring, I can use this information to assist with the planning of lessons, setting learning objectives and designing different types of assessment.

Not to be ignored, these spaces also serve as a record of a student's performance. For me personally, this is extremely useful when it comes to final exams and making decisions about gradings. From the feedback that I have collected from students they seem to appreciate:

  • the flexibility of being able to access documents individually and in collaboration with other learners 
  • having a clear overview of what work has been covered during term
  • being able to review work at their own pace
  • having access to extra resources so that they can take more responsibility for their own learning.

Besides the above core documents, I also upload results from quizzes so that students can review these individually and as a group. I've found Socrative to be useful for creating different types of quizzes, although Google forms can also be used for this purpose. Many tools such as Socrative, have sharing possibilities with Google Drive which I find very useful. I also use Google excel sheets to keep a record of attendance where this is required. And I  make use of Google templates for various projects and upload these to the students' folders. There are also a number of third party tools that can be added to Google Drive to help make the learning experience better for students. What each of us chooses to make use of will of course vary according to our needs and our students' requirements.

What I really enjoy about using Google Drive is that I've found a productivity tool that,
  • is simple to use 
  • syncs across all my devices
  • enables me to organise and manage my teaching material effectively
  • enables me to present and archive material
  • provides me with a space where I can work creatively with students
  • can be accessed synchronously and asynchronously
  • is compatible with quite a range of other tools
  • has a host of add ons and extras if required
In addition to the above and something that is very important for me, Google Drive has helped me to improve the learning experience for both my Skype and my face-to-face language learners. 

I'd been interested in hearing your experiences with this tool for ELT.
Drop by and leave a comment!

Extra resources

Here are a couple of resources that you might like to explore if you're interested in learning more about using this tool:

Check out Russell Stannard's Teacher Training videos on Google Docs and Google Drive.

Learn about some extra features such as Google templates, voice typing (Chrome only) and making images editable. Read this blog post from the

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