DIGITAL LEARNING: School uses Google Apps for Education to create 21st-century environment

Published 8:03 pm Tuesday, October 7, 2014

MEREDITH SOUTHWORTH | CONTRIBUTED SCHOOLOGY: Students in Meredith Southworth’s English II class use Google apps for education like Schoology to carry out assignments, tests and other classroom activities.

SCHOOLOGY: Students in Meredith Southworth’s English II class use Google apps for education like Schoology to carry out assignments, tests and other classroom activities.

CHOCOWINITY — A local school has started to bring its classrooms into a 21st century work environment with the use of Google Apps for Education.

Southside High School, which started using the apps to create a digital learning environment last year, now offers each student a device to work with in over half of its classes and in three out of four of its core class areas, said Dale Cole, SHS principal. Cole, who has found a solution to the cons of using laptops — the long boot-up times, constant software updates and troubleshooting, not to mention the fact that 30 laptops and a charging cart goes for $30,000 — used money from the school’s textbook fund to purchase class sets of Google Chromebooks, which allow students, teachers and administration to have access to a vast spectrum of apps and other resources.

“I can get a class set of Chromebooks and a charging cart for $9,700,” Cole said. “I started last year with floating the idea to teachers of where I thought we needed to go and why I thought we needed to go there and creating a 21st-century work environment, and I just asked who would be interested in it, and I had several teachers jump all over it.”

Cole said the school had not received any textbook funds from the state for around six years so textbooks were falling apart, the curriculum changed when Common Core was adopted by the General Assembly and no one was making textbooks because there weren’t any available that aligned with the curriculum. With everything going digital, Cole figured the purchase of the Chromebooks would be the best long-term investment for his students and the school went to a cloud-based learning environment, he said. Among the pros to having the Chromebooks include an eight-hour battery life, students can open it and be ready to go to work in seconds and it pairs easily with Google Apps for Education, in which documents can be shared through the use of a cloud.

“We can run an entire digital learning environment for free with Google Apps for Eduation and class sets of Chromebooks,” Cole said.

Through the use of Google Apps for Education, students, teachers and even administration can carry out daily activities through several clicks of a mouse. Through the use of these apps, similar to Microsoft Office, different kinds of files can be created, saved and accessed by others, allowing better communication and more effective organization, Cole said. One app, Google Forms, can be used by teachers to create tests, surveys and quizzes, which can be shared with their students. Cole even uses it to better communicate with his staff, he said. Teachers can use the app to create disciplinary forms and classroom maintenance and morning announcement requests, which are sent to Cole to review and make decisions. Cole uses Forms to track data as well, he said.

Another app used widely throughout the school, Schoology, is a Learning Management System, in which every student and teacher has an account, Cole said. The app is configured in many ways like Facebook, but is geared toward classroom communication and instruction, Cole said. With Schoology, teachers can create lesson plans, upload videos, connect links, connect with their Google drive account, send and receive instant messages with students and more. Teachers can upload videos of themselves giving a lecture, embed them in their digital lesson plans and students can watch the teacher give the lesson’s lecture and move on to their work. When students take tests, the system automatically grades them and uploads the scores to the app, Cole said.

Monday, in Meredith Southworth’s English II class, students and Southworth were using the technology to do research papers on global poverty, part of a three-week project her classes had been participating in with another school in the state and two other schools in India. Southworth said the use of Google Apps for Education has been a game-changer for how she presents material and how students comprehend it. Southworth is able to post assignments so her students can complete them while monitoring the proposed lesson plan for each day. Also, when a student is absent, he or she can go back, even from home through the use of the mobile apps, and review what they missed and catch up on assignments. Southworth can also give pop quizzes using the technology to make sure students are understanding what she is teaching, she said.

“I can post videos of myself teaching,” Southworth said. “They can watch the lecture any time they want, and I can have the video going and walk around and make sure they’re understanding. It’s really great. It’s completely transformed the way I teach.”

According to Southworth’s students, the new technology has its pros and cons. For some, writing on paper is better than typing, and there are sometimes problems with Internet connection, which could keep a student from submitting assignments, but Cole points out, in that event, teachers give leeway to problems beyond the students’ control. One student pointed out the technology alleviates the need to carry around and keep up with mass amounts of papers. Cole said he recommends the use of the technology because it’s free, faster and allows for better communication and organization.

“A lot of schools have access to this,” Cole said. “I push for it a lot because I think it saves us a lot of time.”