The beginning of a new school year is fast approaching, and if you are like my school district, you have already been back to school for a few weeks. The ongoing pandemic has forced schools to quickly transition from a traditional face-to-face learning environment to a virtual one. Whether your school is planning on implementing a blended learning model by combining elements of both online and face-to-face learning, or remaining completely online for the time being, it is crucial for teachers to identify and utilize effective digital tools that can enhance both teaching and student learning.
Selecting the particular digital tools that are suitable for your class can seem like a daunting task at first, especially if you are an instructor who is accustomed to a traditional, face-to-face learning environment, and feel hesitant for one reason or another about implementing technology into your classroom or teaching virtually. Utilizing specific online tools that are appropriate for your class can initially be overwhelming simply because there are so many technology apps and program options out there that are available; it may seem difficult to even know where to start.
When choosing which types of digital tools that you will use for your learning activities, there are a few factors to consider. First of all, consider the learning goals and needs of your students. Making use of an online tool that will allow students to demonstrate their understanding of the learning objectives and the content while offering opportunities for differentiation is crucial. Does the application offer the students the opportunity to develop their critical thinking skills, express their creativity, and collaborate with their classmates and teachers through chat functions or discussion posts? Does it have learner support tools and offer opportunities for information and content to be presented to students in different formats, such as video or audio cues? When integrating digital tools in your classroom, you want to make sure that as an instructor you are adept at utilizing all of the functionalities of the tool effectively. You also want to ensure that learners are able to easily access the content, and that the application is user friendly and straightforward so that there is no confusion when students begin to navigate through the program.
Google Workspace tools and how you can use them
Google Workspace for Education incorporates all of the key factors that contribute to productive teaching and learning in an online or blended classroom. It is a web-based program that can be accessible from any device that is connected to the internet, and is an easy-to-use tool that offers a variety of platforms for students to apply their knowledge, demonstrate their skills, collaborate with peers, and receive constructive feedback. Here is a closer look at the Google Suite tools:
Google Docs – this app allows users to create documents that can be edited and stored to an online cloud. In addition to being a great individual tool, learners can also collaborate on projects together, and teachers can offer feedback in real time because the documents can be accessed by multiple users. As a high school English teacher, I have used Google Docs for several essay assignments, because it allows learners to peer edit each other’s writing and it allows me to offer suggestions so students can make adjustments to their work. Google Docs can be used for countless other learning activities, including annotation of texts, assessments, etc.
Google Slides – this app allows users to create digital slideshow presentations. Students can choose different themes, fonts, insert photos, and even incorporate video and animation to enhance their presentations. At the beginning of the year in my classroom, my students utilize Google Slides to create an introductory slideshow about their personal identity, and they incorporate themes, personal photos, etc. to showcase who they are. Google Slides can also be used for a variety of other activities, such as presentation of content for teachers, student created books or stories, interactive games, student presentations, etc.
Google Forms – this app allows users to create surveys and quizzes. The answers to the forms are automatically recorded, and if the item is being scored, it can easily be transferred to a grading platform. I use Google Forms regularly for quick social emotional check-ins with my students, and you can also use it for class surveys, quizzes, and both summative and formative assessments.
Google Sheets – this is an online spreadsheet application that allows users to organize data and collaborate on files. Google Sheets can be used for a variety of functions, such as serving as a gradebook or a class roster list, for attendance purposes, student data collection, etc.
More tools compatible with Google that can enhance teaching and learning
Google also has numerous other applications that can be used in correlation with the core Google Suite tools that can supplement the teaching and learning process. Google Classroom gives teachers an organized platform to post assignments, announcements, quizzes, and discussions by integrating the Google Suite for Education apps. It allows students to turn in assignments, view lessons, videos, and other content, and even allows teachers and learners to participate in synchronous video meetings by using the Google Meets app, which is a tool that allows for live online video conferencing. Gmail is an email account that is connected to Google Classroom and the Google Suite apps, and can be used as an extra source of communication in the classroom setting. Google Earth is a helpful tool that I often incorporate into my discussions to demonstrate the geographic locations of our topics in relation to our own setting in order to broaden the perspective of my students.
Google also offers many extensions that can improve online teaching and learning. Screencastify can record your screen and create video and voice overs, allowing instructors to create asynchronous video lessons that learners can view and complete independently. Bitmoji is a fun extension that creates an animated teacher avatar and virtual classroom that can engage students to participate more fully in the online learning environment.
Those are just a few of the wide variety of digital tools offered by Google Suite for Education. With its convenient format, and large array of effective online learning applications, Google Suite for Education and its supporting apps and extensions are an excellent resource for anyone who is looking to implement digital learning tools into their classroom.