A two-day celebration of cutting-edge technology and smart learning and teaching at London’s 'Googleplex' marked the 10th Google Teacher Academy and the very first to take place in the UK. The result of two years of grassroots pressure led by UK teacher Tom Barrett, the international event saw 50 teachers, most of them from the UK, accredited as Google Certified Teachers.
"This has been a massively important day for us – for UK teachers as well as teachers outside of the US," said Tom Barrett, deputy head at John Davies primary school, Nottingham. "We now have a primed cohort of people who are Google Certified Teachers and who can go on and spread that message in their schools and in their districts. Also, I think we’ve seen Google show their support and encouragement to those teachers who are innovating, not just in the US but also in Europe and across the world.
"I’d like to see more GTAs outside of the US. Hopefully this is the starting point of something that will continue to snowball. I’ve already had people asking me today how can we get a Google Teacher Academy in Sweden and Canada, hopefully there’ll be more GTAs in Europe as well as elsewhere. This has been truly an international cohort. People have come from all over the globe and hopefully it will allow the floodgates to be opened and GTAs will crop up across the world now."
The event represented an outstanding showcase of best practice and emerging technologies that sparked an immediate and intense sharing on the social networking site Twitter (search on the 'hashtag' #GTAUK at http://search.twitter.com to get a sense of the scale). And within days, even hours in some cases, presentations began appearing on websites inspired by, for example, Ronald Ho's demonstration of how Google Spreadsheets can import public information from services like Wikipedia to create astonishingly media- and information-rich classroom resources. One of the best is Kevin McLaughlin's explanation of using 'Magic Fill' and 'Google Lookup' in Google Spreadsheets on his Steps in Teaching and Learning blog with links to hands-on YouTube video (below).
The teacher presentations, like Kevin McLaughlin's, which demonstrated how simple use of Google Maps, Forms and blogging brought to life a project exploring where his pupils came from, and did it in a way which simply could not be done as well with other media.
Tom Barrett took Google Maps and Earth even further, showing how if could be used by learners as a huge canvas for their work. Group writing work on the theme of vampires motivated an online exploration of the Whitby area (home to Dracula author Bram Stoker). Google's space became material for investigation and a place to situate and share the writing, even across schools and with parents. He demonstrated a similar approach for work with Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach.
Before the event took place, howdever, the attendees, teachers from all over the world including the US, Israel, Egypt, Switzerland, and Vietnam, had set up their own blog on the Posterous website.
It wasn't just a learning experience for the teachers. Google employees were also impressed by the innovation of the teacher presentations. "I think it's incredibly exciting that we started this in Mountain View four years ago and when we started it we didn't really know what would happen to the Google Teacher Academy," said Google's senior product marketing manager for education Cristin Frodella (below, left).
"We thought maybe we would have one or a couple, but because of the level of commitment of the teachers and their desire to get together and form a community and a professional development cadre, and because we saw them trading 50, 60, 70 emails a day on their personal group, we realised all of a sudden it had taken off. The more Google Teacher Academies we hosted, the more they were requested.
"Because of Tom Barrett we understood there was this huge community of teachers here in London and the rest of Europe... The best thing about it is that teachers get to work with other fabulous teachers who are doing amazing things – things that we never even thought about – with Google and other tools with the kids in their classrooms."
Samantha Peter, the Google executive who is responsible for Google Apps for Education in Europe (the Middle East and Africa too) was "overwhelmed". She said, "The Google teacher academy was a huge success. It's really powerful and inspiring seeing the way UK and European teachers are using these tools in the classroom.
"The engagement, the energy and the dynamics today have been phenomenal. It makes us want to do our job and get our technology out there into the hands of teachers. And if some of the innovative use cases and enthusiasm for technology that we have seen today can spread, if it can scale, I think that’s really powerful and can transform the way children learn in the classroom. For me it's been an amazing day.
"All of the teachers I spoke to were excited about taking the things that they had learnt back to their schools and to their countries. Many of them talked about hosting events and tech meets locally to share their learning, which is fantastic.
'Technology is a great facilitator in the classroom and it's underestimated'
"Technology is a great facilitator in the classroom and I think it's underestimated. So often it's thought of as being new-fangled or gamey or trendy, but it's not. It really changes the way people learn and the message that resonates is that it really captivates the students.
"The testimonial which we heard over and over again today was that students were more engaged when using collaborative technology like Google Docs in the classroom. This enabled them to work together in groups and get feedback from the peers realtime. They were feeling empowered and actually driving creative ways that technology can be used for learning.
"It was very powerful that the sessions were all teacher-led. For us at Google this has been a learning experience."
The Google Teacher Academy is the latest in a number of teacher networks allied to technology companies, and which serve UK teachers. Adobe has its Adobe Education Leaders, Apple its Apple Distinguished Educators and Toshiba its Toshiba Ambassadors Programme, but the biggest of all of them in both scale and investment is Microsoft's Innovative Teachers project. So the development is significant, particularly as it brings a relatively new major technology into the heart of UK education.
Former teacher Doug Belshaw (left), now a researcher/analyst with JISC infoNet, was one of the first tranche of Google Certified Teachers. "I think it has been of immense value and it’s something we’ve been pushing for a couple of years, with Tom Barrett being responsible for convincing Google to have the first ever international Google Teacher Academy in London," he said.
"It’s important to note that Google has listened to grassroots demands for this type of thing. Not only that, but they’ve got a programme to get Google Certified Teachers to go out and disseminate what’s going on through a certification process. The ability to then run your own events certified by Google shows real forward thinking."
How can the adoption of technologies like Google Apps progress when school networks are so carefully protected? "In terms of senior leaders, the trouble has been that they’ve been too reliant on what IT managers say is and isn’t possible. They have been focusing on the technology rather than the pedagogy and thinking about what they already know rather than what is best for students.
"Google’s approach really flips the mindset: instead of thinking about what is technically possible based on our current solution, it’s thinking about what is necessary in the 21st century for learners to be able to collaborate. It’s turning the whole model of the classroom on its head so that we are putting the learners first rather than simply making ICT technicians lives’ easier.
"It is important, especially given the current economic situation, for the impetus to come from the grassroots. It’s great that Google has got an unconference as part of this Google Teacher Academy and that people are ‘badged’ as lead learners rather than experts. It not only acknowledges that everyone is learning all the time but respects the fact that these people have the ability to present to a large number of people, and are respected in the community.
"The ‘inspiring ideas’ sessions where delegates could share what they’ve been doing in the classroom were just that – inspiring! I was impressed at the fusion of technical and pedagogical ability. The fact that we are sitting here in the Google restaurant at half past eight or later with people still discussing and enjoying their work speaks volumes. I think there’s a real synergy between the way Google think about their spaces (above, right) and organisational focus and 21st century education. I’d love schools to be more like Google – open up until 10 o’clock at night with learners wanting to be there!"
Tom Barrett urged school leaders to make their own investigations. "It’s important to be able to explore these tools properly and to have a good understanding of them, he said. "My message to people who are thinking about their options at the moment, especially in the sort of economic climate that we’ve got, is to consider these properly.
"Often the first things they talk about is security, so what we need to do is talk to those people who have already signed up to Google Apps for Education to establish a well rounded understanding. We need to look to the universities in the UK and across Europe that have already signed up, big institutions that have got behind Google and use these tools.
"School leaders can also contact people within the Google Certified Teacher group that have been created by this event to find out more. They can raise their awareness of the impact of these tools and what this actually means. I think that would help them make better decisions to implement use within their own institutions."
Google Teacher Academy resources
Google Teacher Academy (UK) blog
Tom Barrett's blog
Kevin McLaughlin's blog
Doug Belshaw's blog
Find other Google Certified Teachers and other interested parties by searching on the #GTAUK hashtag at Twitter Search
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