A contemporary learning experience must incorporate digital literacies as a functional skill, equally as important as fundamental English and Maths (Leitch, 2006). These are abilities that are required within all careers and alternative progression routes such as further study or vocational learning. Google Classroom is an excellent tool that streamlines some of the cluttered existing Virtual Learning Environments (VLES) and allows for more intuitive, easy-to-navigate, teacher-student digital interactions. Google Classroom performs these functions in a smoother way than many other platforms such as Moodle, and, in doing so, enables a strengthened digital learning arena for students building the essential skills for successful progression.
I have been using Google classroom since February as part of City and Islington College’s official Pilot Scheme. During this time, I have been amazed at how intuitive this tool is. This may be due, in part, to the fact that I am already very familiar with Google resources as I often use a G-Drive and many of the G-Suite Apps for day-to-day life admin. Nonetheless, that is not an entry point too dissimilar from the majority of our students. From the cohort of students that enrolled this year onto Forensic Science courses that I teach, over 75% listed a Gmail as their main (non-student) email account. One of the greatest barriers to embedding digital resources successfully is appealing to ‘digital immigrants’; the learners who are not familiar with the basics of the tool. Classroom can overcome this in large parts as both an intuitive tool and a habituated resource for the majority group of Google App users.
My use of Google classroom focussed on creating an easier way to manage submission, feedback and assessment of semester-long assignments. I deliver research project units in Forensic Science to both BTEC and Access students. These units involve continuous adaptations to learner work, following teacher feedback, in order to build an investigation and report over several weeks. This can often be difficult to keep track of, for both learner and tutor, as work comes in at different rates from different pupils and investigations can often be entirely re-thought. However, Google Classroom allowed me to set work with clear time frames and advice. Additionally, learners could submit and receive feedback as soon as I had read their work (they could literally see my comments appear as I typed them), and continually develop their project. Furthermore, this was all done within a system that automatically saves changes and stores in a cloud drive, so there was never any fear of weeks of work being lost. I piloted this use of Classroom with my Access group, comprised of learners aged 20-41. I found that most were able to quite easily interact with the system and share ideas with each other as well as interacting with myself as the teacher. Nonetheless, there were some inactive users who logged in very rarely and, therefore, did not benefit from the rewards of the resource. I think for this resistance to be overcome, it may take a handful of computer-room based tutorials early in the semester that introduces Google Classroom and allows learners the chance to become naturally acquainted with the tools.
The research project units I deliver are almost universal across BTEC and Access courses. All of the science Extended Diplomas and Access courses require some form of extended research project and report. Many of my peers in CAS have experienced similar problems in delivering the unit as I have, particularly in managing the work intake and feedback effectively. The ease of Google Classroom as a VLE allowing for direct student-teacher interaction has given a hugely useful alternative that I am very excited to share with my colleagues. Setting sample projects, providing direct and quick-access feedback, and immediately seeing which learners have not completed work [Figure 2] takes so many of the regular stresses of managing a unit like this out of the equation.
From the student-focussed perspective, digital competency is a vital trait to develop because Higher Education relies more and more heavily on technology to deliver content (Paddick, 2016). This is due to increasing numbers of students each year and changing social environments. The impact on our progressing students, therefore, is that their learner journey will increasingly rely on IT ability. This becomes all the more significant due to the challenges faced by UK education leavers who lack sufficient life skills comparatively with other parts of Europe (Wolf, 2011). Embedding online resources such as Google Classroom can successfully expose students to multiple digital platforms, giving them diverse options and greater autonomy. FELTAG recommends that teaching should make use of the existing range of learners’ digital skills to empower them further (FELTAG, 2016). A resource that is familiar, intuitive and easy, such as Google Classroom, therefore appears to me to be a hugely beneficial tool.
FELTAG (2016) Paths Forward to a Digital Future for Further Education and Skills: Recommendations. Accessed May 2019, from: http://feltag.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/FELTAG-REPORT-FINAL.pdf
Leitch, S (2006). Leitch Review of Skills: Prosperity for all in the global economy – world class skills. HM Treasury
Wolf, A. (2011) Review of Vocational Education – The Wolf Report. Department for Education and Employment. Accessed May 2019, from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/180504/DFE-00031-2011.pdf
Paddick, R. (2016) Building the modern classroom from the ground up. Education Technology. Accessed May 2019, from: http://edtechnology.co.uk/Article/building-the-modern-classroom-from-the-ground-up-1471333544