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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.
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:
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)
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>).
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.
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
Time on Task:
Evidence of on-task chat
Use of comments
Use of suggested edits
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.)
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:
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.
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.