By Nick McDaniels — A few posts back, I blogged about teaching in the cloud, an experience I had using Google Drive products with students to write and outline papers while using one of the laptop carts our school has.
The post had an undeniable “enjoy it while it lasts” tone, and, in truth, the laptop carts were soon gone to another unsuspecting teacher who would be forced to use them to give some standardized test developed by some for-profit testing company.
But then… while talking to our school’s tech guy, I noticed a cart full of iPads, called a Race-to-the-Top cart (you may be able to guess what money was used to purchase this set up), sitting in the corner. No one had used it in months. I asked, quite simply, “can I have that?” The answer: “YES!”
So, for three weeks, I’ve been using them. Admittedly, it took the first week and a half to figure out how to get my kids access to a WebQuest I developed, and Supreme Court opinions we were reading, because Baltimore City Schools filters these when using certain browsers. I guess the system doesn’t want our kids really learning about the law from primary sources, essentially treating In re Gault like a “banned book.” I do, however, demand that my students have access. So we figured it out, got Google Chrome, a browser with less filtering restrictions, Drive, and a handful of other apps, including iCivics’s Pocket Law Firm, an addictive educational game on the Amendments (this whole process took hours of iPad by iPad downloading).
With every iPad equipped with these apps and access to the resources, my students enter class daily, grab an iPad, log into their email, get an email from me with a case attached in PDF or hyperlink form, and a link to my Case Brief, a Google Form which is teaching me how to replacing paper worksheets. The responses from these briefs populate into a Google Sheet allowing me to look at all the student responses on the same page, utilize a search function, sort by student and case, see who is simply copying and pasting, and who is putting it in their own words, and see who has completed which assignment without having to consult a gradebook.
Not only has this one-to-one access allowed me to conduct case briefing activities digitally and view student responses in a central, more organized way, but it has also allowed students unparalleled access to a number of resources to figure out complex terminology and concepts without having to ask me first. This, allowing students the freedom to search for answers, to use the skills that come so natural to them as digital natives, has been exciting. Not to mention, the amount of copies I have had to make has been cut nearly to zero.
This experience too, I know is ephemeral. Someone else may need the iPads next year, or I may have more students than iPads, which is usually the case, but my numbers are a little lower this year. While it lasts, I am thoroughly enjoying my second, and this time more sustained opportunity, to use free web-based products to teach in the Cloud. Most importantly, I think the students are enjoying it too.