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Unintended Learning

Yesterday’s Google Docs workshop started out with the teacher (me) fully in control. I had gone through Google’s Educator Apps training modules, I had created a 2 page handout, and I had a demo document set up so we could try it out in the workshop. As soon as teachers logged in, however, there was an immediate issue: three of my elementary teachers could not log in. I forgot that when we set up Google Docs to pilot-I had asked for middle and high School accounts only. A year is a long time to remember what you asked for.

And just like a typical classroom teaching experience, I needed to think and react-so I asked the remaining 8 teachers to “explore” on our district Google Docs site, using the Google Doc I had already created-while I tried to troubleshoot the log in issue. Within 5 minutes, one teacher had discovered Google forms and quizzes and was making quizzes for the other teachers; all the teachers were typing running commentary onto the Google Demo Doc-much like a back channel. Since they had all been give editing permissions, they were adding and deleting each other’s comments at will.

“Cathy how do I get her to stop deleting my comments?”

“This is fun! It’s like chatting and talking without the noise! The kids are gonna love this!”

“I am having a hard time reading everybody’s comments-it’s going too fast!”

“Can I email this to someone?”

Meanwhile, I was trying to manually add 3 teacher accounts through Moodle, with my IT guy providing support via Google chat, telling me if I add them manually I could “break it”, meaning, I had probably already broken something because I always try at least three things before I even ask for help. Twenty minutes later, all three teachers could log in, but one of them had “view only” permission so she couldn’t really do anything.

Feeling as if I had lost control of my “classroom” I stopped everyone and asked, “So if you were going to use this in your classroom- you can see that kids first will need time to explore- and how long did it take someone to learn how to use Google Forms?”

“Five minutes-maybe.”

“And I see everyone has discovered how to edit a document-now I need a volunteer to create an official notes page for this workshop that will be published for everyone to see. Although your backchannel document is fine-we need notes for the class. May I have a volunteer?”

I got a little grief when one teacher shouted out and I chose the teacher who raised her hand. “Thank you for raising your hand,” and I modeled having a student set up a notes page, adding editors, and off we went.

As we continued the workshop and our class was busy taking notes, the backchannel chatter mostly stopped. It also became apparent we needed a lesson in note taking, however, which you could model early in the Google doc’s implementation stage. I asked for someone else to organize the notes by topic, with bullets-no easy task!

At the end of the class, our one student had “checked out” because she still had view only permission to the notes doc (I really had broken it), and that became a moment for us to discuss what happens when technology doesn’t go according to plan- because it will happen.

“I usually ask the kids if anyone knows how to fix it.”

Open it up to a class discussion. If you cannot take the time out of class to troubleshoot or wait for a solution, then make sure you have a plan B that allows ALL students in the class to be active participants.

Overall, the workshop was successful, but I can’t help feeling badly about my one  student-teacher who sat frustrated for most of class, and refused to do anything. If that had been a student in my class what would I have done? What would you have done? I know now-but in the middle of my lesson, things weren’t so clear.

classroom lessonseducationGoogle DocsLearningtechnology

Cathy Brophy • July 24, 2010

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  1. Alfred Thompson July 25, 2010 - 11:49 am Reply

    Teachers make for a really tough audience to teach to sometimes. I really do love teaching teachers but it is not always easy.

    The best thing that can happen in a workshop like this is for some things to go wrong because it does show teachers what can happen and hopefully how to handle it. I don’t know what to do with the student/teacher who checks out though. “Share with your neighbor” comes to mind but so often people are all about doing it themselves.

  2. Cathy Brophy July 25, 2010 - 4:26 pm Reply

    Thanks for your feedback! It is something I will continue to work on! Other thoughts a teacher shared with me are accessibility issues for children who may have vision or hearing impairments, or other special needs; it is a good lesson and reminder not to assume all students are equally able to access what we do in class.

  3. Sue Densmore August 3, 2010 - 8:41 am Reply


    It’s nice to read your blog – and especially about Somersworth and Rollinsford. I taught in Somersworth – music, 6-12 – from Sept of 1988 to June of 1995.

    I appreciate the story of the tech going down. It’s very frustrating for me when I am in my recording tech class and something happens!

    Keep up the good work…

    Sue Densmore

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