Remember passing notes in school? Notes were an artform. Hours were spent folding pull-tab notes, heart-shaped notes, chain notes–and don’t forget cootie catchers. This was the communication method of choice for decades amongst angsty teenagers and tweens. Cell phone text messaging came along in the early 2000’s which left teachers scrambling to figure out how to handle that new technology in the classroom.
In 2019, many schools around the world have gone 1:1 with Chromebooks and kids have even more access to technology they can use to chat with their friends. Savvy students have figured out how to use Google Apps for Education like Gmail and Google Docs to chat and pass virtual notes. Students will never want to stop gossiping with their friends, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Chatting in Google Docs and virtual note passing provide an invaluable opportunity for lessons about digital citizenship.
How can you tell if students are chatting in Google Docs?
Using Hāpara Dashboard and Highlights makes it easy to see what learners are up to and whether or not they are chatting in Google Docs (see chart below). Some learners like to start a Google Doc, name it something that sounds like an assignment (so it slips under the radar), share it with friends and type their messages to each other in the Doc.
|In Dashboard if you hover over any of the files in a Student Tile, a preview will pop up that allows you to view the text of the document. Also, look at the access rights. If a “homework” assignment is writeable by 20 students, then you know something is up. Dashboard allows teachers direct access to learner Docs.|
|In the Current Screens tab of Highlights, you can see the screen that learners are looking at in near real-time.|
|In the Browser Tabs section of Highlights, you can see all of the tabs that the learner has opened since you launched your Highlights session.|
|In the Activity Viewer tab of Highlights in the Collaboration section you can see what learners are collaborating on. URLs will show up here when more than one learner is on the same website, and you can identify who it is. If a group of learners are working on a Google Doc that you didn’t assign, this might be a clue that they aren’t on task.|
Don’t shut learners down
Highlights provides great visibility into student learning. It also has tools for closing learner tabs and pausing their screens–but use these sparingly. Highlights was developed based on the principles of gradual release of responsibility, and with the goal of using it as a tool to teach digital citizenship. Students will never learn good digital citizenship if we simply close out their tabs all the time. Adults have to model and teach responsible use of technology to young people. Instead of a method of policing, try this instead.
At the beginning of the school year when you have a brand new group of students, you will definitely want to watch their online activity more closely. You can also use features like Guide Browsing in Highlights to focus learners on particular websites, or prevent them from viewing websites. As students grow in their digital citizenship throughout the year, you can give them more autonomy and choice little by little.
Students will definitely make bad decisions at times with technology. They are kids and they are learning, so it’s not the end of the world. They don’t need to be banned from their Chromebooks because they were caught chatting in Google Docs. Instead, take these moments as opportunities to have positive interactions with learners. When you see something like this happening, use the Send Message feature in Highlights to drop a quick line like, “Hey Ted, let’s get back to work.” If the learner is chronically off task, take a few Snaps (these are like screenshots) and send them to the learner via Gmail. Tell the learner why this is not responsible online activity.
There’s a lot more you can do before closing a learner’s tabs. Instead of potentially damaging your relationship with that student and literally shutting them down, open up a dialogue and teach them how to be responsible online.
Give learners choice
Technology has changed education as we know it, and Highlights is a useful tool to keep kids safe online. But, if learners are engaged in activities that are relevant and meaningful to them, and they have some choice and voice in how they demonstrate their knowledge we all know that off-task behavior tends to diminish. Many teachers have found that Hāpara Workspace is a great way to create interactive, differentiated and highly-engaging lessons. Their students are happier and more excited about learning.