For me, learning is best described by Senge (2006) as enabling people to do something that previously we were never able to do (or in some cases, not do very well), allowing them to “re-perceive the world and our relationship to it”. An extra, essential layer on the learning process involves critical reflection on the learning experiences (Jonassen, Peck, & Wilson, 1999) which in my opinion may also contribute to learners developing a greater and passion to learn, by enhancing feelings of competency in the learning process itself.
As a year 8 homeroom teacher, e-learning technologies allow me to more effectively structure the learning experience for individual students so that not only are they able to learn how to do something they were not previously able to do (or do well) but perhaps more importantly they are able to easily reflect in a critical fashion on their learning. Also, because of the collaborative nature of web 2.0 technologies such as those found in the Google Apps for Education suite (Google Drive, Google Sites, YouTube etc) students are able to more effectively create and publish meaningful, collaborative pieces of work which can be shared with the rest of the class, school and broader learning community with the click of a button. In my experience this lends meaning in education to what might otherwise lack it and can greatly increase motivation and engagement.
I have previously analysed my teaching practice looking through the four lenses of the How People Learn (HPL) framework (Hagler, 2014), part of which saw my critically reflecting on how new and emerging technologies (NETs) used in e-learning might be used to increase student engagement with their broader learning community, which includes peers and whanau. In my analysis, I identified the opportunities and advantages that NETs provide for increasing students interaction and engagement both within the school “boundaries” and outside of them. I have made much more of an effort this year to use technologies such as Google Drive, Google Sites and Blogger as tools to facilitate this process. Anecdotally this has proven to be a success, with increased engagement with peers when producing collaborative work and engaging in online fora, as well as with parents through shared work on blogs and sites. I view the ease with which this can be done as one of the great advantages of e-learning technologies and look forward to broadening student connections with other schools in the community as well.
As well as strengthening the connection between school and whanau, I am excited by the use of NETs as tools in blended learning. Blended learning can be defined as “learning which combines online delivery of educational content with the best features of classroom interaction and live instruction to personalize learning, allow thoughtful reflection, and differentiate instruction from student to student across a diverse group of learners” (Watson, 2008, p. 4). In my teaching, I utilise Google Apps technology to provide blended learning opportunities; specifically, Google Drive allows students access to shared files from their own devices while in the classroom or at home which they might use to produce collaborative presentations (e.g. http://goo.gl/aj6dOB), documents, drawings etc, while Google Sites allows students to access resources (eg embedded YouTube Videos, external links etc) and fora which they can interact with, again while either at school or at home.
While anecdotal evidence in support of Google Apps improving educational outcomes is not hard to come by ("Creating collaborative learning with Google Chromebooks: Google Chromebooks and apps for education facilitate authentic learning experiences," 2014; Elena, 2012; Nevin, 2009; Rienzo & Han, 2009; Statucki, 2012) there seems little in the way of rigorous academic investigation that elevates them above other solutions. Nevertheless Google Apps is proving very popular in NZ schools, no doubt to due to its low cost (no fee to purchase the domain and unlimited users, although support and assistance may be required) and communication solutions (Gmail, Calendar) which come as standard. The real power, however, comes from those apps discussed previously, which allow for coordination of learning (esp. Google Sites) and real-time collaboration (Google Drive documents, presentations etc, as well as commenting on sites and page creation as wikis) (Aslan & Reigeluth, 2011; Coutinho & Bottentuit Jr., 2010). (Round, 2011) argues that Google Apps provides a platform for nurturing communities of practice and legitimate peripheral participation, as theorised by (Lave & Wenger, 1991), as well as blended learning programmes. Another benefit is that the cloud-based aspect of Google Apps refocuses the institutions resources on using the tools rather than maintaining expensive infrastructure or attempting to develop similar tools themselves (although Google Apps are very flexible and easily adaptable).
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Coutinho, C. P., & Bottentuit Jr., J. B. (2010). From web to web 2.0 and e-learning 2.0. In H. H. Yang & S. C.-Y. Yuen (Eds.), Handbook of research on practices and outcomes in e-learning: issues and trends (pp. 19-37). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
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Elena, R. (2012). Google Apps for Education – a powerful solution for global scientific classrooms with learner centred environment. International Journal of Computer Science Research and Application(02), 19.
Hagler, S. (2014, 18th March 2014). Using New and Emerging Technologies To Improve Educational Outcomes: An Analysis Through The Lenses of the HPL Framework. Retrieved from http://www.iseeteaching.com/2014/03/using-new-and-emerging-technologies-to.html
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Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning : legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge [England] ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
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Round, K. (2011). E-Learning 2.0: Cloud Computing and the Online Learner. Journal of Applied Learning Technology, 1(4), 24-27.
Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline : the art and practice of the learning organization. London: Random House Business.
Statucki, C. (2012). There's an App for That Google Apps for Education. Techniques: Connecting Education & Careers, 87(5), 8-9.
Watson, J. (2008). Blending Learning: The convergence of online and face-to-face education. http://www.inacol.org/cms/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/NACOL_PP-BlendedLearning-lr.pdf