Saturday, 1 March 2014

GoogleDocs, Evernote and visible feedback

It's been a while since I've blogged with the pressure of impending OFSTED, marking every single word every written by any student to please the new guidelines etc etc, but today I learned something new about GoogleDocs. And it's worth sharing. I thought so, anyway...

Context: I was presenting at Coventry's Partnership Plus Teaching Conference today about the way in which mobile devices could help teachers improve teaching and learning. Initially I had divided the talk into three sections: Assessment for Learning through questioning, differentiation and fostering independence in students. As a last minute addition (and by last-minute I mean at 4.22 a.m. before the 9.00 start!), I thought I ought to include marking and feedback as OFSTED seem to be putting a great deal of onus on those aspects of teaching and learning.

As many of you know I use GoogleDocs and Evernote constantly for formal written work.

The students use Evernote as their note-taking tool first and foremost:

  • It's easy to use
  • It can include all sorts of other media (videos of a practical, photos of notes on a board, attached documents you send the students etc)
  • Documents are easily shareable, through email, link sharing, or on Twitter
  • Notes are taggable for easy cross-referencing (especially useful when it comes to revision of topics)
  • And most importantly from my point of view, for verbal feedback
Use the mic (top right) to record a verbal feedback file (bottom left)
Let me explain the last point, as it saves a lot of wasted time. It seems to me that the new focus on marking and feedback is leaving many schools floundering in a tidal wave of evidence searching, to prove that we do what we do every day, namely talk to our students. In our school it's "Verbal feedback given" stamps. In other schools, there will be some variation on that theme. And for the sentences or two of advice I give, the whole rigmarole of getting a stamp out, getting students to mark in books what has been written etc is precious time being wasted, which often takes longer than what I'm asking them to action. So here is where Evernote comes in useful: You simply record yourself as you talk to the student, and an audio recording is automatically appended to their notes. It's simple, it's no extra work, it's evidence that I do it, and it's there when ten minutes later the student is about to ask me for the fifth time what I said!

For more formal assessed writing, I use GoogleDocs (for presentations, essays, spreadsheets, forms etc). There are several areas of functionality that Docs has which are easier to access than in Evernote, as follows:
  • Collaborative writing is easily done by students sharing the link to the document they are creating with whoever else they wish to work with. This is useful for collaborative classwork and homework. It is also incredibly easy for me as a marker to see who has contributed what sections of each document, and therefore to distinguish between their input levels, and justify different marks to examiners.
  • Peer feedback is easy through the comments section, again simply through sharing the link to the document with a given peer. In particular I like the fact that the person sharing the document can set preferences so that they control whether collaborators and peers can view, comment upon or actually edit a document
  • Sharing documents with me as a teacher creates a system of visible, trackable marking, the "paper trail" OFSTED are often looking for. All comments are dated, and each different collaborator's comments, including mine, come in different colours.
  • Comments added down the right
  • This then begins a mythical and trackable dialogue with students, through which we can start the processes of DIRT, reflection or whatever you wish to call it. And again, it's very visible.
Throughout the process of drafting, marking and re-drafting work, the student has a record of everything that has been said, and the teacher has a record of everything which has been changed, which I think is pretty neat. But someone was about to help me out even further with some learning of my own. During the conference today one colleague stopped me short and asked if we could print out the document with the teacher comments on, as she wanted to write to send her work off to the moderator with her comments typed in the margin. Great idea, I thought, before investigating and finding out it wasn't possible (Google, if you're listening, sort it out!). Another colleague however, reminded us you can export documents as a variety of formats including Word. And lo and behold, when you do, there are all the comments!
Comments to support marks down the right, including those of internal moderators in different colours

So there you have it: Today's revelation. Use GoogleDocs not just to annotate for your students, but also do it for your external moderation: If you cross-moderate within departments, it's even better as the internal moderator's comments are in a different colour. Export the document as a Word document, and print. Job done!

My workshop, but it was me who was learning as much as anyone there. I do love it when teachers share...