Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Online Office Hours with Google Docs

Before we get into this week's tech tip, I want to present a nice little keyboard case for the IPad 2 -- I was looking for an inexpensive way to protect my IPad, and give me access to a real keyboard (one that wouldn't take up 1/2 the screen whenever I needed to type).  In an earlier post about the Burlington 1:1 summit, we mentioned a case we saw during a presentation - it turned the IPad into what looked like a little laptop: the Clamshell.  It was very nice, but 150 bucks was more than I wanted to spend.  

Enter New Trent.   Here's their case:

 It's relatively light and compact, and the IPad can sit either horizontally or vertically.  

It has three different angles that you can set: 45, 60, or 75 degrees, and the keyboard can be removed from the stand for independent use.  

The case snaps on easily (once you remove the rubber sleeve our school Ipads have), and it gives full protection to the IPad, with a solid shell all around.  

Also, when you close the IPad into the case, the unit turns off; similarly, it turns on as soon as you open the case for use.

Cost?  40 bucks with shipping included on Amazon -- a solid value, and I've been quite happy with the results (minus the incredibly poor English in the manual)...

Now for today's post:  Online Office Hours.

I've struggled with having extra help reach a range of students -- many can't or don't stay after, and the twenty minutes or so at lunch is really limited.  I already have my students do a lot of work on Google Docs and, as I detailed in the Google Docs PD I ran a while back (and detailed in a post on another blog), I use Google Docs as a digital white board, where I can save each class' board notes and make them accessible to all students.

The next logical step was to use the same format for extra help sessions.  Here's how I set it up:

First, I created a new Google Doc.  I set it up with an embedded table, like shown to the left here.  On one side, a student could post a question.  On the other side, I post an answer.  Up top, I list the session topic, and when the office hours will be "open."
Next, I change the sharing setting to public on the web, anyone can edit.
I then post the link -- for my classes, I put it on the team's discussion board, and advertise the help session in my class, where I list my homework. 

If I were to give them the link in class, I would first copy the page address from Google Docs into and shorten to something easy, like "LTPHelp" for the one on the left here.

Then, for that hour of time (I generally run mine from 8 to 9), I have my computer open at home, and I periodically check for any questions.  I can immediately see how many people are on the document, and if anyone is typing.  You can see the full extra help document here.

Why do online hours?  I've noted a number of benefits, including:

  • much higher student involvement.  My last session had over twenty students in attendance, for part or all of the session.  A number of students pop in and just observe - reading through the questions and answers to help their own understanding.
  • I can reach the students when they need the help most.  Before an assessment is due, or in the midst of a big assignment, I can be available for those last minute questions or big concerns.
  • Student posts are anonymous - no sign in is required.  Why is this a good thing?  Some students feel awkward about asking questions.  Here, no one knows who is doing the asking, including me.  I find this liberating - often, we have preconceived notions about what a particular student should or should not know... here, the playing field is leveled.
  • After the session ends, I can turn off the editing permission, and post the link to the session - now every student can have access to the questions and answers from the session, and I can refer back to the questions in class.
  • Beyond this, these sessions train the students for a format that they will see more and more as they move through high school and beyond.
Need more information?  Interested in a walk-through to set one of these up?  Stop by, or drop me an email.

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