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Teachers teaching teachers – how Google for Education fuels collaborative learning

Google’s head of education explains why the use of technology in classrooms is critical and how Google’s education technology is sparking collaboration between teachers

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During April and May 2015, Google for Education ran a regional roadshow – featuring pop-up classrooms full of Google technology – to show teachers and students how technology can be used to fully support learning.

Schools already using Google’s technology, dubbed “Lighthouse schools”, hosted these demonstrations to show how involving technology at the core of learning will improve performance.

But the initiative has sparked a trend among participating schools – teachers are using the various Google for Education apps to collaborate with each other and learn more about how to use technology in the classroom.

Teachers teaching teachers

Liz Sproat, head of Google for Education, explains that allowing greater collaboration in an education setting encourages peer-to-peer learning for the teachers, as well as the children.

“We have something called the Google Educator Group and that’s where we bring teachers together in an online community. It’s a great way for them to share their experiences and ask questions or share difficulties,” said Sproat.

“The community is incredibly active in supporting each other in that journey.”

The roadshow presenting Google digital classrooms, which was spearheaded by Sproat, saw teachers from participating schools offering advice and answering the questions of other teachers.

Computer science workshops were provided to teachers and Sproat explained the ongoing support of teachers is crucial to ensure parents, teachers and students cope with the curriculum changes.

This is why Google funds initiatives such as Code Club to support teachers when trying to teach the new computer science curriculum and “build confidence in using technology as a tool for their teaching approach”.

“Teachers still want to have this quite collaborative and problem-based approach to teaching and learning. They feel it is the best way to go and we see technology as an enabler of that in the core discipline outside of computer science,” said Sproat.

The new curriculum

As of September 2014, schools are required to teach computing to pupils from the ages of five to 16 to introduce the concept of computational thinking at an early age.

According to Sproat, the computer science curriculum is as much about teaching skills children will need in the future as it is about technology and coding.

“One of the things we feel really passionately about is the sorts of skills that are going to sustain young people whatever the future might look like,” said Sproat, adding that the pupils will gain problem-solving skills as they learn coding.

As digital skills become a growing demand in many kinds of workplace, computational thinking and the skills that come with it are increasingly important.

But although these changes were hailed as the answer to the skills gap, many teachers were not ready. Google aims to “help teachers deliver a more interactive learning experience”.

Google has tried to develop a “platform for learning” that provides essential tools, such as Google Docs, to drive a “project based collaborative approach to learning”.

“We don’t focus on the technology itself. Technology is simply a tool teachers can use to help drive a particular learning outcome and that’s really important,” said Sproat.

“Once you make the use of technology about the technology itself, then you’ve lost sight of the goal of the teacher’s role.”

Changing the use of technology in schools

This increase in collaborative working, as well as the need for affordable devices, has led to schools adopting a platform approach when deciding on classroom technology.

“Our engineers were looking at how traditional devices worked in classrooms and they found lots of barriers to great usage for schools,” said Sproat.

“Traditional devices require you to pay for and add security software, for example.”

With devices needing re-imaging every year, as well as constant software updates, traditional devices can become expensive and difficult for schools to manage. This is why many are turning to devices and platforms such as Chromebooks with Google for Education.

“This is really driving an industry shift for device prices for schools to become cost-effective,” said Sproat.

“Technology usage in schools has been limited in choice and there has been very dominant players that have led the way.”

Academies Enterprise Trust, the largest multi-sponsor of academies in the UK, assessed how much a move to this type of platform would save the trust. It discovered the move to Google apps would save £7m over the next five years. Adopting Chromebooks rather than traditional devices would save them a further £1.3m, as well as 50% in IT costs.

Changing school culture

This shift towards collaboration has changed school culture. In many cases, Google is finding children are being given the opportunity to be more involved in education delivery.

“They’re able to engage the students in a role in the school. For example, as a trainer and teacher to other teachers and other kids. That helps build the profile of the student,” said Sproat.

“It gives them a formal role to play in the school. Some schools are even having students becoming interviewers of prospective teachers to assess their digital technology skills.”

These children or teachers are being dubbed “digital leaders” who instigate the use of technology for others to follow.

“We often find in any school you’ll inevitably have an innovator who is really passionate about technology and who just gets it and uses it,” said Sproat. “Yes, it’s about the teacher and their classroom, but it’s also about a whole school culture.”

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Chosing to call them 'Lighthouse schools' doesn't say much for educational standards within Google. Lighthouses say "stay away from me, there's danger here". Something more like 'spotlight' or 'lantern' would have been more appropriate.
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