Swimming in a Sea of #GAFE

Two years ago, I dove into Google’s ocean without the support of a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) lifeboat. I asked all my students to create a Google account, and off we went. We struggled with all kinds of hazards. Did you know that Google will randomly ask for validation with a cell phone number to text, and if you put your phone number in too many times, Google will reject it? Did you know there are what feels like a thousand ways to mess up sharing files? We waded through those hazardous waters. As the school year ended, I breathed a sigh of relief when my school decided to join Google’s fleet and go GAFE.

Using Google’s tools opens up all kinds of doors for students. No longer did I have the problem of students bringing in versions of documents that could not be opened at school. Or students who nervously told me that the paper I had in my hand was not the most recent version of the paper they wanted to turn in. I stopped having “no ink/no paper” excuses. Students could more easily share with one another, and I could comment in real time on student papers.

But all those things were true when students were using their own Google accounts, so why was I so happy we went GAFE? For one thing, student email became uniform. I knew instantly who commented on who’s paper, who “accidentally” deleted all the work of their group (for this alone, I love Google: revision history!), and how to contact students. Before, even though I had asked for a uniform nomenclature for student emails,  some students used the email they’d had since they were eight. It could be quite difficult to tell which student was which. With a district admin of Google accounts, it was much easier to ask for a student password to be reset.

The best part of becoming a GAFE school started this fall, with Google Classroom. Although it’s not a complete Learning Management System, it helped tons with clarifying assignments. Students had a learning curve, as we figured out together how to create assignments, make copies of templates, and turn things in. Google Classroom made it possible for me to help my chronically absent students keep on top of what we were doing. We learned how to screenshot on a variety of devices, how to save images from the web, how to comment on each others work: it was transformative.

It must be said that I have a high tolerance for technology frustration. I can roll with the fact that Android insists on Internet Explorer, which won’t play nice with Curriculet (can’t wait for that browser to die), or that different devices screenshot differently. I can roll with the fact that some students will never click “turn in” and make it easy for me to see their work is done. When the internet inexplicably fails one period, I can find my paper copies and keep moving on.

To help with the tech headaches, I have tried this year to foster a culture of support among the students. The student who figures out how to insert a video into her Google Presentation or add a soundtrack to his WeVideo can teach two more students, who in turn can teach the others. There’s only one of me, so I want to spread the tech support around as much as possible.

To really use our GAFE status, most teachers will need at least a little support. They’ll want to know the power of the Google toolbox, from Google Classroom to Chrome extensions. They’ll want to know to look out for Google chat on documents, which can be helpful or can derail the most diligent of students. Some day, my school will offer GAFE training. Maybe it’ll even be me, teaching teachers what I’ve learned.

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