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“Okay everyone, take out your cell phones or tablets.” Never had I imagined that my classroom ideology would be governed by an invitation to use the technology so many “traditional” teachers fear and loathe. Cell phone usage encouraged in class? But it is a veritable playground of distractions. And the last thing a teacher needs is to to fight for attention against the vibrant, often cacophonous, temptations offered by the internet. And here I am requesting that they move their seats closer to an outlet if they are low on battery, and log in to Google. Why would I risk the potential disaster of allowing students to use devices in my English class when we need to be reading literature and improving writing skills? The answer is simple: Technology is what students today know, it is what makes them comfortable, it is what they bring to class, and it is what motivates them. And, something I realized after hearing about vicious battles between teachers and in-class technology usage by students is: If I can’t beat ‘em, I might as well join ‘em. Only recently have I begun my own journey into the magical world of technology integration. But since doing so, my students’ engagement, efficiency, and effort has vastly improved.
Googling has become an acceptable verb in my class, and it is used any time a student asks a definition of an unknown word while reading, or when an obscure historical question arises out of contextual clues. Allowing my students to utilize their devices has created a culture of inquisitiveness. Rather than simply waiting for “the answer” from me, they dive into their own research, and are eager to share what they learned, where they learned it, and how easy the answer was to find. And this quest for knowledge is, in fact, what we want to instill in our students, isn’t it? Encouraging the use of cell phones and tablets places a world of knowledge at their fingertips, and they are excited to partake in the adventure of internet exploration. This excitement is a welcome change to the drone of dissent that resounds after telling them to take a dictionary from the shelf or to visit the library to do research. However, using Google as a search engine isn’t the only benefit of my highly digitized classroom.
Another useful technology tool used daily in my class is the script that has enabled my class to share GClass folders. Google’s script enables teachers to create Assignment, Edit, and View folders for each student in each class using Google Drive, making sharing documents easy. This tool also allows virtual teacher conferencing, instant feedback, collaboration, and easy access to presentation slides and other handouts I make without worrying students might misplace them. Using it with my English classes has decreased the amount of students who do not turn work in on time for losing thumb drives or not accessing printers. GClass folders also enable students to keep a digital portfolio of all work done in class, along with edited versions and drafts with teacher comments. This has been extremely valuable to my seniors, who need to draft application essays and put together applications or portfolios in hopes of getting accepted into college. Time has been saved by allowing students to embed links and insert images seamlessly by using Google’s toolbar options. When writing essays, students can copy quotes directly from e-texts or links to informational articles, rather than waste time copying from a paper version, and risk missing or mis-typing important information. And sources are easy to relocate, as they can be accessed directly from the GClass Folders.
In addition to writing, GClass folders have also helped my students and I save time when we face obstacles that are out of our control. I no longer need to fret about copy machines that have broken down, and my students don’t need to worry about missed handouts when absent. I simply place work in their View folder, and with a click of a button, we all have access to class slides, documents, and spreadsheets. And if we happen to lose internet--no problem. Google Drive provides an offline version, so I can always access my documents, and display them on the projector for all of my class to see. GClass folders has been particularly useful to my busiest students, who work after school jobs or play sports. Assignments can be read, written, and edited on their cell phones, and homework can be completed on the bus, at the checkout line, or waiting for mom and dad to pick them up from dance practice.
Let’s face it, our lives are busy. And as more is thrown our way, in education as well as in life in general, we need to make the most of our time, and utilize the tools that make us more efficient. Learning to access tools such as Google’s GClass folders, downloading Drive to our cell phones, and taking advantage of the technology available makes us savvy. It helps us be more productive. It bridges a long-standing gap between teacher and student, and puts us together in what has become known in my class as the Google Playground, where everyone has a chance to achieve.