My Course 5 Final Project is a regionally collaborative project involving classrooms from the 6 Gulf countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This is the second year we have ran the project, but this year we made many adjustments to enable more communication and collaboration between students. In order to facilitate interactions between 188 students, I knew we would need to improve communications between the 10 participating teachers (plus any support specialists).
Last year to accommodate communication between teachers, we relied on Google Hangouts to chat in groups or just pairs. This year, with plenty of positive interdependence built in, I knew we would need a forum where we could all initiate conversations, post resources, and ask or answer questions. I decided to create a private Google+ Community called Together in the GCC. I liked that I could create a closed group, and although I could have done the same on Facebook, I knew all the teachers were at schools using Google Apps for Education.
This forum has worked well for our project. It was easy to quickly poll teachers for input or majority decisions, and it was also great for me and other teachers to pass along resources needed for the project.
The biggest challenge was getting teachers to participate in the community. For the most part there was one main teacher from each school that was active, and of those half only responded to questions within a days time. With a tight timeline already, this issue will definitely need work at the beginning of the project next year if our aim is to truly go through the project together with our students relying on each other’s research and presentations in order to create their final project.
To address this, I think it would help to email out a ‘Welcome Video’ that included a short tutorial about the community. The tutorial would need to go over tips to be an active member like: setting up a notification email to see when others post, how to post and reply, the importance of using the ‘+1’ button, places to find members and their emails, and how the feed is organized. In addition to introducing features of the Google + community, I will also include an overview of what is housed in our shared Google Drive Folder and how participating teachers can add their resources to be shared by all.
I have also kept the initial Weebly website updated, which I created when the project was first launched last year; it’s also called Together in the GCC. This year, the intended audience became the students, rather than the teachers, as it was last year. I think the site was less utilized this year because teachers didn’t need it for project resources; and instead of students accessing the materials there, most teachers passed them to their students through email or Google Drive. For next year, I think it would be a good idea to continue to use the Weebly site for students, but pay for the ‘premium’ account in order to allow other teachers edit the site, including the home page blog roll with messages to/from students.
Google+ Communities is not a perfect tool, however, and I would really like to see them add an archive section to quickly access all the documents that have been attached to posts; much like Facebook has a place to scroll through all the photos attached or tagged.
Overall, I really like Google+ Communities and have plans to use it in my role as the New Faculty Coordinator to answer questions, provide necessary information for their transition, and to facilitate communication among incoming teachers. I’m hoping that through the use, they might be inspired to use it with their students, especially in the secondary school.
I’ve been happy with the choice of the Google+ Community, and with more front loading about how to use the tool effectively, I think it will provide the opportunity for more communication around ideas, resources, shared decisions, and progress; all of which are needed to maximize our students global collaboration.