Saturday, May 1, 2010

Staff Development Woes? Google Can Help

This post also appears in the Digital Learning Environments blog.

Last week I had the opportunity to present at Tech Forum, Midwest. As always, it was a lively exchange of ideas with some of the more forward-thinking professionals in education. One of the recurrent topics was staff development. How do we accomplish our goals? How do we bring teachers together? Is formal training less important now than relying on PLN’s? Several ideas were discussed, but the two biggest dilemmas: time and money seem to loom large. Specifically, the biggest impediment stems from the inability for teachers to “connect” with colleagues to develop ideas.

As many of you know, I attended the first Google Administrator’s Academy last month. As I continue to process what I learned there, I would like to share with you a handful of Google applications that can transform staff development in schools.

Docs Google Docs contains word processing, spreadsheet, presentations and even draw on line. Google Docs enables you to create documents “in the cloud” and collaborate easily with others. Inviting collaborators is as easy as sending an email. New features include a more robust “word processor” interface, faster uploads, group folders, and the ability to upload virtually any document. Many educators (including me) are saving more documents on Google Docs, and fewer on a “hard drive.” The big advantage is if I need multiple people to collaborate, give feedback or just proofread, I simply invite them to the document, instead of sending multiple emails and collating responses.

Forms Let’s say you need to collect survey-type information from your colleagues. Sending out a Google Form is a great solution. Housed in a Google Doc spreadsheet, a Form allows the creator to choose from a variety of question types, create a survey (or quiz for that matter), send out the url, and allow participants to complete the survey on their own time. The data collection is simple; as the responses come in, the information is gathered on the spread sheet, and with one click, the creator can view results for each question in an easy-to-read bar graph. This is quite a relief for a spreadsheet-challenged user like myself.

Moderator This is quite possibly my favorite new application. Let’s say your staff development group has to brainstorm a list of resources to help teachers develop strategies in Assessment Literacy. Moderator allows the creator to set up a “series,” invite users, allow them to add links to sites, comment on the sites, and vote for which ones are most valuable. At any time, viewers can see the vote tally as well as the comments made by colleagues. This is a great brainstorming tool that allows everyone in the group to voice her opinion and be heard.

Calendar OK, so an online calendar is not new, but I have found the Google Calendar to be very powerful and easy to use. There are many, but my favorite feature is the ability to create multiple calendars, and overlay calendars with other users. This can do wonders to resolve possible conflicts. You can also sync your Google Calendar with Outlook or your phone.

Groups Increase your PLN in two ways. First, create a group including the people on your staff development team. Groups allows you to discuss and share ideas in a universal location. More importantly, browse Groups to connect with other teachers across town or around the world to ask questions or respond to others.

Wave Admittedly, I have used Wave on a limited basis. Several people I know have used this real-time collaboration tool with great success. Think of it as a cross between a wiki and Twitter. Please share any feedback.
Staff development is a continual, arduous process. We have a tough enough job developing the ideas to transform education. Getting together with colleagues should not impede our progress. These applications help take us in the right direction.