Friday, October 12, 2007

Create a Permeable Classroom - Part I: Google Docs Presentations

Over the past few weeks educators around the globe have discovered some powerful new tools. Google added presentations to their web-based office suite, which already had word processor and spreadsheet components. Also, a wide variety of services now allow users to create their own streaming video "channel" using just a webcam and an Internet connection. These tools make it easier than ever to give your students an authentic audience for their work - and to bring their peers or content area experts into the classroom. This post is the first of two. In this post I'll share about Google Docs presentations and in part II I'll share several services that allow you to create your own streaming video shows.

Google Docs Presentations

Google Docs (formerly Google Docs & Spreadsheets) now allows mulitple users to view or edit a presentation online. Users can create a presentation from scratch or import and then share an existing Powerpoint presentation. Surprisingly, these presentations are also a way to bring an international learning community into your classroom. Here are some of the benefits and limits of this new tool, followed by some early educational examples.

The Benefits
  • Web-based: File storage, editing, and even the final presentation happens right on the web. This means that your presentation (or a student's presentation) can be accessed at school, at home, or on any other internet connected computer. You can edit from anywhere, and even present anywhere. There is no need to worry about software versions or compatibility when you move from computer to computer - and no need to worry about paying for software or updates.
  • Collaborative: Users can edit or view presentations from multiple locations... simultaneously - or asynchronously. This means that students can complete group work from their own homes, and you can collaborate with other classes world wide, all without worrying about juggling multiple versions of a document via email. This also means that students, teachers, parents, or others around the globe can virtually "attend" a presentation online.
  • Backchannel Chat: During an online presentation, participants have a chat "room" to the right side of the presentation slides. This allows face-to-face participants the opportunity to interact with each other while the presenter is speaking. Presentations can now be interactive, and many more students can participate via text than they can via voice. More importantly, it allows peers and experts from around the world to interact with the class. These two things enable a shift of power (and authority) away from the presenter to the students and to other experts around the world. It is a compelling new sort of presentation experience, particularly if visitors are actively included as part of the presentation.
The Limits:
  • Computers and Google Accounts Needed: A presenter can project the presentation on a large screen as they would with powerpoint, but obviously for face-to-face students to take advantage of the chat room functionality they will need to have their own computers. Also, in order to participate in the chat students (and any virtual visitors) will need to login using a Google account. Naturally, anyone who wants to participate in collaboratively editing the presentation will also require a Google account. Google accounts are free, but do require an email account and a registration procedure.
  • No Archives & Limited Export: It is easy to get information into Google Docs, but not nearly as easy to get information out. The chat transcript is not (or at least no longer) archived, and it cannot be cut and pasted. (Screen capture programs can be used to save a chat as an image or video, though.) Also, although you can import PowerPoint presentations into Google Docs, it will not export PowerPoint presentations. It will only export a zipped html file that will allow you to run the presentation in a web browser when you are offline.
  • No Audio, Video, or Screencasting: If you are attending a presentation remotely via the web it is easy to follow the presenter through the slides, however you cannot see the presenter or hear what they are saying. Also, if the presenter shows other programs or sites to their face-to-face audience, you cannot see these remotely. In short, Google Docs does not provide any streaming audio or video and does not provide any screen sharing or screencasting features. This makes a Google Presentation of limited effectiveness for remote attendees... unless a third-party application is used to transmit audio, video, or the presenter's desktop. This is where several new streaming video services might come in useful.

In part II of this post, which I'll share next week, I'll discuss the benefits and limits of new services that make it easy for anyone to stream video using a webcam. In the meantime, here are a few examples of pioneering early uses of Google Presentations in education.

  • Google Presentations - A presentation about Google presentations, originally created by Vicki Davis and forty (40) other educators around the world! This presentation actually serves as an introduction to using Google Presentations, including ideas for classroom and professional development uses.
  • ES PTA Presentation - A presentation about Web 2.0 tools for parents, including the benefits, concerns, and proactive strategies for safety (based on the Internet Awareness presentation which I created for the Laguna Beach USD under a Creative Commons Share-Alike license). Kim Cofino presented this to parents in Bankok, with an audience of educators from around the globe contributing in the backchannel chat.
  • BTC Interview - A presentation that Jennifer Jones used during a job interview - using the presentation she brought her online learning network to the job interview with her! She explicitly involved "the network" by including prompts in small text in the lower corner of most slides. This is a good model for being sure the online audience can participate and contribute to the presentation, even without streaming video or audio.

You can also read my personal reflections about these examples and about Google Docs presentations in general at Google Docs Presentations: Limits, Benefits, and Questions.

If you've tried Google Docs presentations with your students, or if your students have already used a Google presentation themselves, please leave a comment (and a link). We'd love to hear your story. If you've got other stories about your own learning with Google Docs, we'd love to hear those as well. Please leave a link to any blog posts you may have written on this topic yourself, too. And of course, feel free to leave questions or other comments about this post.

Check back next week for Create a Permeable Classroom - Part II: Live Web TV.