Google Apps for the OU stundents – will other follow?

Last week, I read in Martin Weller’s blog that OU had decided to adopt Google Apps for its students. Martin Weller names a couple of reasons why it is a significant move, one of them is:

„It puts powerful collaborative tools in the hands of students – I commented on twitter that Google Docs might end being the most significant educational technology around. Not because it’s fantastic, but because it’s there and it’s easy to use. Or maybe it’ll be chat. Or large email storage. Whatever it is, I think students (and tutors) will start to use the technology in ways that we don’t predict or demand, but because it makes their lives easier. We have struggled to crack collaborative learning for distance students for ages – maybe Google Apps will do it in one move“

Martin is right. Students will definitely find their own ways in using these new tools. I directly experienced it during the trials organised within the iCamp project to check the feasibility of cross-cultural collaboration (trial 1)  + self-directed learning (trail 2) + social networking (trial 3) in the context of iCamp Space.

Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google group and Google sites were among some other social software tools that students were encouraged to use in order to carry out different group assignments (work on a project, design a questionnaire, design an e-learning course).  Generally, the students took different approaches towards the selection and the use of those tools. Some decisions were deliberate (fitness for purpose, based on the review of the tool functionality), some were made rather spontaneously (quick decision, followed by the use of the tool for some time, followed by the discovery that it didn’t fit the purpose, followed by the decision to change to another tool), while others can be described as instruction-driven (let’s work with email and put the final outcome into the Google docs, because it was one of the tools required).

I took part in the trial 1 as a local coordinator (my task was to give support to the Polish facilitator). It was very interesting to see how students were coping with this messy learning environment, trying (trial by error) to find the best solution for their group given its unique characteristics and context.  So the outcome was that students (and here I relate again to Martin Weller’s words): used the technology in ways that we didn’t predict or demanded, but because it made their lives easier. For instance, we didn’t predict that while designing a questionnaire in Google Docs, some students would also start communicating (or even chatting) within this tool!

I definitely recommend, to those who are interested in using Google Apps and other social software tools for education, to read the reports on the trials and the iCamp handbook: ‘How to use social software in higher education’.

I also have my contribution to the handbook. Within the chapter on collaboration I wrote to scenarios for using Google Docs and Google calendar for educational purposes.

I decided to put the scenarios on my blog (the next two posts). If Martin is right and other universities will follow the OU in adopting Google Appls for their students, the scenarios can be of use to those responsible for the implementation.

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