Google Teacher Academy (#gtauk): Reflections

So I have returned from the first international Google Teacher Academy “With weary joints, and a beating mind”. Having had some time to digest it all I want to reflect a little on the experience.

There was a conversation on twitter after the event inviting people to describe the experience in three words. The biggest common theme seemed to be the immense pace of learning that went on, and I would say that is pretty representative of the experience I had. After breakfast on the first day we sat down to a 30 minute presentation on search. Now, I think most of us probably approached this thinking it would be a nice relaxed start to the day, after all we had all be selected as proficient ‘googlers’, so we certainly knew how to do a simple search. It only took 30 seconds for the enthusiastic and engaging Lisa Thumann to have most of our jaws dropping with the undiscovered potential of a simple web query!

Lisa easily fitted a whole mornings worth of learning into the first 30 minutes, and the day continued at such a frantic pace… for a further 10 hours! Google make the kind of tools which are just there, they work, they are easy to access and they do what you need. One of the most important things I would take away from this experience is that it is well worth investing some time in scratching the surface of all of their tools, because below the layer of obvious functions there is a myriad of possibilities of immense power. A little time can reveal huge possibilities, and the more I learned about previously undiscovered features, the more ideas I had for using them to enhance the learning in my classroom.

A day based on google services was inevitably going to be fairly focused on the tools themselves, but I was impressed by how often things were brought back to the learning, and to real classroom examples. Tom Barrett’s session on google maps was a great example of this, and his method of using maps for story writing really shows just how an in depth knowledge of these tools can facilitate remarkably creative and interesting classroom practice.

One way google used to link their tools back to classroom practice was the ‘inspiring ideas’ sessions led by conference attendees. My presentation went really well, and my decision to as much as possible present my ideas through the medium of videos of children in my class turned out to be a very good one. It might have been a slight learning curve setting up my presentation in google presentations, but it meant that as my five minute talk was taking place my videos had already been mailed and ‘buzzed’ across the google apps team. Within minutes I was told of an email from the worldwide product manager of google docs who said seeing how my pupils had benefited from using docs had ‘made [his] day’!

I could blog for weeks about all the cool things I learned about Google Products, but I am going to restrain myself to one forthcoming post of highlights. I may have learned an awful lot about Google products, but I am an educator not a technologist, and I feel that what I have learned is only useful in so far as it can be used for learning. I had an interesting conversation with Tom Barrett whilst at the academy about the importance of being relevant when trying to persuade teachers to use technology, which was very interesting coming from someone who could undoubtedly move out of the classroom and into consultancy with ease if he wished. I think the real value of those of us at the academy learning these tools inside out is the ability for us to have the knowledge at our fingertips to suggest uses of the tools when a learning outcome is defined

For me, the biggest value of the day came in seeing the culture of creativity and innovation which exists at google, and which exists amongst all of the attendees that I met. I was really impressed with the attitudes of the lead learners who, although running an understandably google centric event, were open to bringing up the flaws and limitations of their tools, and even recommending other tools where they were better fit for the required purpose. I also learned a huge amount from the other attendees who, far from being the ‘IT heads’ some people may have expected, were all forward thinking people who embraced the way technology can facilitate learner centred education and so called ’21st century’ learning skills.

The drive to use tools in a different way, to really find out about their undiscovered features and then warp them to suit the needs of learners is something that we really need to promote in schools. It was fantastic to work with so many people who have that drive, and I hope we can use our role as google certified teachers to coordinate ourselves to better promote that in our schools and beyond.

Links:

Google Teacher Academy Resources – All of the presentations and resources from the day are freely available here.

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Cool technology things I learned at Google Teacher Academy (#gtauk)
My #gtauk presentation: Collaborating on teaching writing

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