Google Collaborative Writing: Playwrights in Vancouver, BC and Timmins, ON Connect on a Google Doc

A couple of years ago, Google Docs commemorated National Novel Writing Month by inviting authors Edan Lepucki, Tope Folarin, and Mike Curato to participate in a short story challenge. The three writers were tasked with writing a short story…on the same Doc…in three different locations…in real time.

The beauty of Google Docs of course is that the same Doc can be shared with multiple people, and with 3 different permissions, depending on the type of activity desired: View, Commenting, and Edit. In this scenario the 3 authors all had Edit rights, and because it is a live document, they could collaborate to write a story together in real time. As their story unfolds, the audience is able to see the developments every step of the way.

The authors were later asked about the process they went through, and all three commented on how they had never before written a story with others in real time. One author mentioned feeling an “incredible rush”, and another stated that they were all “feeding off one another”, and that it was more fun writing in a group than by yourself.

I wanted to recreate this activity, and my vision was to invite my sister Amy Lee Lavoie to collaborate with one of our Timmins, ON area high school students (Max) who loves to write, and has written plays for the schools she has attended on her own time. These plays were performed by students in grades 7 and 8. She is in grade 11. My sister is a playwright based in Vancouver, BC, and I thought it would be an important and memorable exercise for a young writer to engage in a real-time collaboration with an established and incredibly talented (I may be biased but it’s the truth!) playwright. These two would never have had the opportunity to collaborate had it not been for the power of Google Hangouts and Docs (and my hand in the introductions I suppose).

As is sometimes the case, I did run into some technical difficulties. For one, our administrator did not have Google Hangouts on Air (GHOA) enabled. I assumed that because our regular Google Hangouts (GHO) were enabled (we use this platform all the time in our board), that GHOA would be as well. This is not the case! Your Google Admin must enable GHOA through Google +, as we learned here.

Second, even though we were able to enable GHOA in time for the event, it was not working for our student. So, we resorted to a regular GHO and it was still amazing. The only thing is, in regular GHO there is no automatic recording feature. I tried to enlist the help of third-party screencasting software, but it wasn’t meant to be that day!

So, I resorted to the faux-pas of taking pictures and video with my iPhone in an attempt to capture some of the spirit of the activity (I know, I know). Definitely nowhere near the production value of the commercial above, but I WILL try again!

Amy wrote the beginning of the play as a starting point for the activity:

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The shared Doc was up, the GHO began, and a frenzy of collaborative writing ensued!

Although there may have been some nervousness in the beginning, our student Max quickly got into the flow of writing and soon the two writers were creating a hilarious dialogue together. The two characters in the play, Eric and Thea, were growing sassier with every keystroke. There were no real pauses between writer switches, lots of laughter, and intense concentration throughout the process.

At the end of the call, the two writers weighed in with their thoughts on the collaborative process – Amy in Vancouver, and Max in Timmins.

Amy: I often think of playwriting, or the act of writing, as a solitary thing, but theatre is really a community-based art form. It requires an incredible amount of energy and diverse bodies to bring it into the three-dimensional realm. This exercise brought me back to that feeling of collaboration. And that, to me, is about risk taking, curiosity and imagination. It was so much fun!

Max: It was fun, it was a little stressful at first trying to find my groove and get into it, but it went well though!

The real-time, collaborative process itself was particularly rewarding in that it forced the playwrights to go against their usual instincts in order to follow their co-writer’s lead and move the story along. There was a real sense of connectedness, and it’s a beautiful thing when the writers are 3,782 kilometers away from each other.

It is my hope that I will be able to facilitate more of these collaborative writing opportunities for students through the digital Human Library‘s extensive community of experts, and even via some local writers, to further cultivate a love of writing. I can only imagine the valuable input a teacher could gather from watching collaborative writing unfold – the student’s individual writing process would be apparent, as would the type of writer they typically are (whether they prefer to get their words and ideas onto the Doc and not worry about spelling errors, or if they are the type to fix their errors as they go).

And, it’s fun. 🙂

A huge thank you to Amy and Max for participating in this little experiment with me…let’s do this again soon.

Here are the beginnings of the collaborative play in Google Docs. It’s not finished, as we only had approximately 30 minutes of writing time, but it’s a cliffhanger!

 

 

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Cold calls to collaborations, and other tales of connected learning

I’m a big fan of the cold call.

More often than not, in my experience, the people I have reached out to in the world of education have reciprocated to the point where some pretty great things have happened. Transformative, even.

There was that time I cold-tweeted Dr. Leigh Zeitz of the University of Northern Iowa with a link to a research project I conducted. I had adapted and applied his work to a project for my school board about creating collaborative research projects with Google Apps for Education. Screenshot 2016-06-03 21.28.18This led to a Google Hangout where I had the opportunity to talk to someone I may never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise, and he even helped me narrow my focus for a research question I had been working on for one of my courses. I brought this knowledge back to my group, we applied his suggestions and it definitely paid off.

Whenever I have a question about Google Sheets (which is all the time), I tweet to Alice Keeler and she always responds. I’m sure she will tire of me eventually. I tweet to her about other things too.

And back when I was applying to UBC’s MET program, one of my visions was to develop a type of online platform to connect educators to artists. I was working with Virtual Researcher on Call at the time as a classroom teacher, and I asked my contact there if she knew of any such platform in existence. That’s when I first heard about the digital Human Library and Leigh Cassell. I contacted Leigh in September 2014, and long story short, I am now VP for dHL’s Board of Directors and a Library Curator for the site.

This is how things happen, my friends.

So how does using technology to collaborate with others lead to transformative learning?

Harvard University’s Dr. Chris Dede wrote a three-part series for Ontario school and system leaders participating in the Technology and Learning Fund (TLF). His first think piece is entitled “Technologies that Aid Learning Partnerships on Real-World, Authentic Tasks”. In it, he states that “modern digital tools and media now enable the use of deeper learning strategies in schools (Dede, 2014) including:

  • Connected learning encourages students to confront challenges and pursue opportunities that exist outside of their classrooms and campuses (Ito et al. 2013); and
  • Collaborative learning enables a team to combine its knowledge and skills in making sense of a complex phenomenon

When educators themselves model connected and collaborative learning practices, they show their students the importance of working together to exchange information and ideas, solve problems and extend the existing task beyond what it is to potentially create something new. This may have never occurred had they kept the learning confined to their own classrooms.

There are numerous video-conferencing platforms educators can choose from (Google Hangouts is a personal favourite, as we are a GAFE school board), and webcams are pretty standard these days, as are projectors – but where do they even start connecting with people?

I recently had the opportunity to collaborate with a wonderfully passionate educator named Sean Robinson. We connected via Leigh Cassell. He asked me to speak with a group of educators at Centennial Secondary School in Coquitlam, BC about my experiences using various services to help connect students to experts in various fields. Here they are:

I spoke about how I had used these websites in classrooms in order to help modify and certainly transform students’ learning experiences in various subject areas. You can read more about it on Sean’s blog here.

If you look at Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s “SAMR” model, a sort of measuring tool for educators to integrate technology into their classrooms, the ultimate goal is to not only enhance but transform student experiences so that it results in higher levels of achievement. This is done through “redefinition”: the technology actually allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.

Here is an example of the SAMR model at work, using my experience with Mr. Cull’s Grade 5/6 classroom in Cobalt, ON and “Exploring by the Seat of your Pants”.  Prior to the Google Hangout with adventurers Tarran and Ollie, who would soon kayak the Amazon River, the students thought of questions they would like to ask the pair:

During the Hangout, students had the opportunity to have a conversation with Tarran and Ollie, and would also follow their journey via their website. The students therefore had a stake in their own learning.

There was a follow-up Hangout upon completion of their epic journey, and the same class participated and was able to ask questions to extend their learning.

Here is what the task would look like in each stage of SAMR:

Substitution: Using Google Search to research the Amazon River Run, and Google Docs to type up a report / presentation.

Augmentation: Incorporate interactive multimedia – audio, video, hyperlinks – in the presentation to give more depth and provide a more engaging presentation.

Modification: Create a digital travel brochure for the Amazon River that incorporates multimedia and student created video.

Redefinition: Participate in a Google Hangout with the explorers, provide authentic interviews, follow their journey via the website and then follow up afterwards. Incorporate all artifacts into final product.

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Image from Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s “SAMR and TPCK: A Hands-On Approach to Classroom Practice”

If you’ve made it this far, you are awesome.

If you would like to join a Connected Learning Partnership, please click here and get ready to expand your world!

 

References:

Dede, C. (2014). The role of technology in deeper learning. New York, NY: Jobs for the Future. http://www.studentsatthecenter.org/topics/role-digital-technologies-
deeper-learning

Puentedura, R. (2014, December 11). SAMR and TPCK: A Hands-On Approach to Classroom Practice. Retrieved June 3, 2016, from http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2014/12/11/SAMRandTPCK_HandsOnApproachClassroomPractice.pdf

Zeitz, L. (2014, September 6). Create collaborative research projects with Google Apps. Retrieved June 03, 2016, from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=16

 

Washington State University Tech-Ed Conference, Oct. 1-2, 2015: Using Google Street View and WalkInto as a Medium for Virtual Field Trips

Over the past 2 days, I have had the amazing opportunity to learn from leading researchers in the field of Educational Technology at the Washington State University Tech-Ed Conference. What a beautiful conference and campus, and the people were inviting, engaging and all-around great folks. The invited speakers and paper presenters provoked thought and discussion surrounding how technology, but more importantly, the careful thought and good teaching behind the technology, can be transformative. I presented a paper on behalf of my colleagues at the University of British Columbia’s Master of Educational Technology program (Novak Rogic and Alison Pattern). This was a group design project from ETEC 510 where we designed an online, technology-supported learning environment.

Here is my presentation about using Google Street View and WalkInto as a medium for teacher and student-created virtual field trips. This is a new concept in VFT’s that allows for both teachers and their students to create and produce incredible content – it is not limited to VFT’s by any means! Some ideas our group thought of were: flipped classrooms, marketing and promotions for colleges and universities, school walk-throughs for parents, etc.

What are some other applications you can think of?

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Ctl Education Chromebook Training for Teachers

The teachers in my Board acquired Chromebooks (namely CTL Education Chromebooks) at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, as part of a plan to move towards and embrace web-based computing and Google Apps for Education. We also have Chromebooks for our students, and these will be in their hands very soon. This is a presentation I created to address some concerns and questions teachers had at one particular school; however, the questions and content can easily be changed to suit all needs as I continue training. Many of our teachers have either never heard of Chromebooks or have not used them extensively (if at all). To be perfectly honest, I myself have not had much experience with Chromebooks either, so I’m learning right along with them!

The training I provided on this day consisted of two small groups; one in the morning and another in the afternoon, where the ratio was 2:1. This was extremely helpful in addressing all of those little questions that pop up while test driving their Chromebooks, particularly regarding how they differ from the Dell laptops they have been using for years.

I am sharing this presentation here, and hope to receive some feedback from other school boards – what were some of the challenges in deploying Chromebooks to your teachers and support staff? Triumphs? How about distributing them to students? I’d love to hear from you!

CTL Education Chromebook Training Slide Deck

The CTL Education Chromebook

NECDSB Google Collaborative Inquiry Project

As part of my school board’s Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE) funding, I was tasked with developing and executing a research project. Based on this article on the ISTE website, and the work of Leigh Zeitz, an associate professor of instructional technology at the University of Northern Iowa, I worked to modify the concept presented to better reflect the needs of the grade levels I planned to start working with – namely Junior and Intermediate levels.

Our project is focusing on how the use of technology, specifically the collaborative tools offered by Google Apps for Education, can increase cooperative, constructivist learning environments and enhanced student achievement and engagement. We are examining whether students’ learning about a topic is transformed, using the tech tools provided in the classroom and by collaborating with peers/the teacher (working cooperatively) to further develop thinking skills.

In my first course at the University of British Columbia’s Master of Educational Technology, I worked with two students to develop a platform for virtual field trips (VFT) for teachers and their students. We used Google Business View (GBV) and an application called WalkInto that allowed us to embed educational materials as overlays to enhance the virtual field trip.

Our project posited that GBV can be used as a tool for creating interactive, audience-responsive, virtual field trips for students. GBV is an online application, part of the Google Maps suite. It allows certified users to create 360’, interactive views of the interior of Google Map’s location.

For our project, we created an interactive tour of UBC’s Pacific Museum of Earth. We used UBC’s wiki spaces to build a teacher’s guide on the use of our virtual field trip for educators, which includes suggested activities, curriculum expectations and how to use the VFT.

I wanted to combine the elements of a VFT and the collaborative affordabilities of Google Apps for Education, in order to build a unique, engaging and cooperative learning experience for students while gathering data for my board’s CODE research project. So, the NECDSB Google Collaborative Inquiry Project was born. CODE Inquiry Project - 10

The target group of the project research for this phase is Grades 5 and 6. One Grade 5/6 class in Cobalt, Ontario and one Grade 6 class from Timmins, Ontario were highlighted for the purposes of this research. The subject areas we focused on were Literacy (Writing) and Science (Scientific Inquiry / Research Skill Continuum); with a particular emphasis on collaborative inquiry and group work performed entirely online using Google tools.

Prior to my classroom visit, I sent a link to a Pre-Survey that I created in Google Forms. The summary of results can be seen here:

NECDSBCODEProjectPreSurvey

I created a Google Slide Deck to introduce the VFT to the students, and take them through the steps of the project:

May2015CODEGoogleCollaborativeInquiryProjectSlides

Measuring Student Engagement: VFT and Google Apps

Measuring student engagement is a tricky endeavour. While there does not appear to be a single definition for engagement, the following definition represents an aggregation of the literature: Engagement is seen to comprise active and collaborative learning, participation in challenging academic activities, formative communication with academic staff, involvement in enriching educational experiences, and feeling legitimated and supported by university learning communities (Coates, 2007). This definition suggests that engagement is the amalgamation of a number of distinct elements including active learning, collaborative learning, participation, communication among teachers and students and students feeling legitimated and supported (Beer, Colin, Ken Clark, and David Jones. “Indicators of engagement.” Proceedings ascilite Sydney (2010).

The students used Google Slides for collaborative note-taking during their VFT and Google Docs for collaborative research report-writing. The elements of these Google Apps that could be used for collaboration purposes were:

  • Chat within the Doc and/or Slides (including Google Hangouts chat tool)
  • Suggested Edits
  • Comments
  • Share button

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The students were given the choice of tool they used throughout the process. In our post-survey results, the majority of students used the chat tool (30 out of 32 students at 93.8% of respondents). This is not surprising. According to the Media Smarts report “Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Life Online”, which is a report based on the findings of a survey administered in 2013 to 5,436 Canadian students in grades 4 through 11, “online life has become increasingly social, with social networking now an integral component of many online activities. Online media are primarily used for entertainment and communicating with friends and family, and one of the most frequent online activities reported by students are: reading or posting on someone else’s social network site, at 41% of respondents (“Life Online Report – MediaSmarts.” 2014. 24 Jun. 2015 <http://mediasmarts.ca/sites/mediasmarts/files/pdfs/publication report/full/YCWWIII_Life_Online_FullReport.pdf&gt;).

As educators, we should heed these findings, and listen to our students who tell us (and show us) that they like to use social media. Also as educators, we should realize that just because students use social networking sites for chatting with friends, does not necessarily mean that they are using these sites to their fullest potential. Participatory civic uses of digital media are also relatively low. This is an area we can (and should) tap into in order to harness student engagement and move forward towards a participatory civic culture that fosters active and collaborative learning. Students in this project were given the opportunity to engage in this type of learning environment.

During the activity, the students frequently demonstrated that they were engaged with the project. Three qualifiers were used to gather anecdotal evidence: Interest, Time on Task, and Enjoyment in Learning.

Interest:

  • Evidence of collaboration in the classroom and using the Google tools;
  • Evidence of students being able to fulfill their roles within their teams happily, and;
  • Participating in all stages of the project

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Time on Task:

  • Evidence of on-task chat
  • Use of comments
  • Use of suggested edits

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Enjoyment in Learning:

  • Evidence of a willingness to share ideas
  • Demonstrate working with team members and participating enthusiastically in the process (pictures of their chats, etc.)

CODE Inquiry Project - 15  Screenshot 2015-07-21 16.51.22
At the conclusion of this phase of the project, I sent a link to the two teachers involved to my Post-Survey. The summary of results are here:

NECDSBCODEProjectPostSurvey

My full research report, including my methodology, observations, measurable outcomes and a summary of my findings, can be found here:

CODE Phase 4 Research Report 2015 (Melissa)

The project was a success in that the students responded favourably to both the VFT and the use of a Google apps platform to collaborate in groups online. Both were a familiar and engaging forum to them, and their enthusiasm was indicated in their post-survey responses, and demonstrated throughout the time we spent together.

It is my belief that the students who participated in this research project gained significant insight into a new way of collaborating in group work situations, and a new way to research various topics. 87.5% of the students felt that the platform provided to them (Research Team roles combined with Google tools to support and enhance) helped them to learn the material better. 

The survey results, as well as anecdotal notes taken during the activity, show an impact on student learning, and certainly on student engagement. The results hold promise for future collaborative learning opportunities in the classroom, and also indicate that further research is required across multiple grades and subject areas.

Here is a sampling of student research projects:

StudentWork

Stay tuned for the next phase of research in Fall 2015! Please contact me if you would like any further information about this project, and the next phase of research. I welcome any ideas for improvement and the potential for collaboration.

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Attempting to get some sun while working on the research report
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Analyzing pre-survey results
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Analyzing post-survey results