Regularly, I get asked about how Google tools can be used to really make a difference. The opening line often goes like this,
Ben, I have this problem. Is there any way that the Google stuff you do could help?
My usual reaction is somewhere in between "Of course it can!" and "Let me have a think about it." This generally becomes a little problem for me to solve, usually with the help of others who use the GSuite, very often by asking my PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter [By the way, if you don't yet have a PLN, here is a great article explaining what it is and here is another explaining why you need one!]
I thought that it would be a good idea for you to see how I use these tools consistently by looking at a typical day in the life of me...an educational consultant, who doubles up as a substitute teacher when I can and who triples up (is that even a phrase?!) as a dad, husband, charity trustee, governor and blogger. I will primarily focus on Google tools but other technology will be discussed too.
0630 Wake, shower and breakfast (I'm not sure there is ever a way to use Google for Education tools at this unearthly hour but it doesn't take long to think of ways that my routine is shaped by technology.) The alarm on my iPhone serves as the wake-up with a carefully planned melodic tune to wake me from my slumber if my three year-old doesn't do this first! I generally check Twitter, Instagram and Facebook before I leave my bed. [For the nerds out there who care about why the snooze time is 9 minutes, here is an interesting article to explain.] Google don't help me shower...yet but I am keen to see how Google Home functionality will boom in the next few years. Just for now, how a Google Home device can be used in the bedroom (calm down everyone!) is discussed in this cool article on CNET.com
0700 Checking what's on today. I check my Google Calendar for appointments and my Google Keep to-do lists before I get into the mechanics of the morning. I tend to categorise my Keep notes and use folderisation and collaborative notes with labels to ensure pinned notes are actually important. I have an ongoing shopping list which is always handy on the go. My Calendar is an important part of staying organised. I have a blog post coming up on using Calendar effectively, embedding in Hangouts and lesson plans but just as a nice little mention, there is a video below which highlights the new features and look for 2017. It definitely needed a revamp and Google listened!
0715 Reading and Journalling. I try to make this a consistent feature of my day, even if I am working in a school. This isn't always possible with travel and kids but I fit it in at some point. I like to use a paper journal (Gasp! I know!). This is something I have always been in the habit of doing but I do know that others use Evernote to journal (in fact, I have used this previously but prefer the paper version!) It is absolutely feasible to use a Google Doc to compile a journal and if you use headers, it auto-creates a table of contents for easy access to previous entries, which is great. (If you are unsure how to create a table of contents, this article shows you how.) I use the YouVersion Bible app to study a relevant scripture to set me up for the day too. I am experimenting with a number of media genres for books. I currently have paperbacks, audio-books and an e-book reader. Google Books is also a brilliant resource for finding full-text books and articles. Couple this with Google Arts and Culture and there is a vast array of learning available for free.
0745 Travel. This is obviously a flexible time. Sometimes it is a long commute, whereas other days are short. In general, I try to make use of this dead time by listening to an audio-book. I use Audible as my weapon of choice. I love that the books I choose are read by the author and that I can jump back and forth if I am distracted. In December, my book is A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink. I sometimes have to pull over to make notes on what I am learning but generally I do really enjoy this format. If I am not driving (and one day I am looking forward to driverless cars so I can actually do stuff in this time as opposed to driving) I tend to be on a train, where I generally access documents through my well-organised Google Drive, which my colleague, Dan Fitzpatrick wonderfully blogged about previously (see link below).
0830 Team meeting. I tend to do this through Google Hangouts now as I am not based in a physical school as much. Hangouts is an amazing tool and can be used in a variety of formats. (I recently showcased Mystery Hangouts at the Google for Education Christmas Party and Classroom Bridges is a great resource to make connections across the world.) When our team connect over Hangouts, it is a great opportunity to share screens and documents through a Team Drive. If you aren't using Team Drives, you are really missing out and Google wrote a great blog on 4 reasons why you should!
0930 Design Work. If I don't have classroom contact time, I tend to find myself playing around with design concepts for blogs, the website, flyers or lesson resources. I am totally self-taught on all the tools I use. If it is a quick image or design that needs creating, I use Google Drawings. It is a slimline app with minimal features but certainly enough to use within Docs or Slides. Embedding Bitmojis and then customising them is a particular favourite of mine but Matt Miller from www.ditchthattextbook.com shared some brilliant templates for Graphic Organisers which I use all of the time. Drawings is great because it is collaborative but also because it seamlessly integrates with other Google tools. If the design is a little more complex, I use another free online tool, Canva, which has a range of amazing infographic and social media post templates, as well as lots of free and paid shapes, text and designs. These can be easily downloaded in a number of formats. It is super-easy to use and you can even create design teams to share work (although at the time of writing, there is no contemporaneous collaborative functionality yet.) I also love Adobe Photoshop, the staple of any graphic designer, but am aware that many of its features will take time to understand and it has a pricetag beyond the scope of most. However, it is definitely possible to pick it up from online tutorials; in fact, that's all I do! One last mention here whilst on the topic of design, many of the icons I use come from www.thenounproject.com - there are paid and free versions of accounts here but if you want to use them royalty-free, you can pay a monthly subscription. I have found it is well worth the investment.
1200 Emails/Letters - correspondence. In this role, it is vital to keep in contact with clients and colleagues. I have switched over to Inbox by Gmail and the video below explains why. I find its interface is so much more friendly and appealing. Generally, this takes up a lot of my day but for the sake of this blog, I won't bore you with the finer details. I use Google Docs to write letters for a number of reasons, some of which are listed below:
1. It can be collaborative. Through the blue 'Share' button I can bring other people in an instant.
2. It is compatible with Microsoft Word or can be downloaded as a PDF for non-Google users (or muggles as I like to call them!). They can be transferred easily between formats.
3. It has revision history where I can now name versions, which means I can see progress over time.
4. It has brilliant add-ons such as Grammarly which check that I am writing well, Mail Merge which allows me to mail-merge documents (Autocrat is great but this is actually through Sheets which generates a Doc) and Draw.io which allows me to add diagrams.
5. It is available to edit offline and then they sync when you have internet connection.
6. It can easily be edited to become a hyperdoc, with clickable links if being sent electronically.
1400 Resources curation. This is a vital part of my schedule - the time where I find new or important information that can either be for my work with The EduTech Project, my roles as substitute teacher or governor, or more broadly in my areas of interest. If something creates symphony within these three realms I am one step closer to enlightenment! Curation is defined as "the collection and sorting of information", meaning that it isn't enough simply to collect stuff, it must be organised. This is why I have a Google Drive system that is folderised, colourised and labelled. I do this on a weekly basis to ensure it is always in tip-top fashion, deleting items I no longer need. I often use my PLN (see earlier) to find information but I usually have to create materials from scratch too, many of which are shared through Google Classroom. I have written extensively on making the most of this tool but as a quick tip here and with relevance to the concept of curation, I like to number my posts. I also learned some amazing tips and tricks from my good friend, Laura White (@thinkteachtech) when she presented at the aforementioned Demo Slam, one of which was that it is possible to use the Chrome omnibox (address bar) to search Google Classroom (mind = blown!), Drive and Docs. I like to use this time to find or hone skills too. One such tool has been Google's Digital Garage and through the Google Educator certifications. I cannot recommend these resources highly enough if you want to step up your game as an educator and/or business.
1900 Kids' bedtime! Although this might seem like the time where we shouldn't use technology, I actually find there are a couple of great ideas for ensuring my girls learn and also how I can invest in them. Niamh, my eldest, makes a little Flipgrid video for me and her mum about what she has learnt that day. I am also experimenting with getting her to create a video of things she is thankful for at that time - being present in the moment and grateful for things in life is definitely something I want to encourage in my children. Flipgrid is a great tool for this. In fact, in November I decided this was my Tool of the Month. Additionally, I like to use The Bible App for Kids as a creative tool for kids' stories. This app has interactive games and learning checks which I love! As a side note, if you want to view how Flipgrid is being used with teachers, please see the video below.
1930 Planning, marking, organising or learning. It has never been more apparent that teaching requires more and more time. I remember a trainee teacher I mentored a number of years back who told me two things: one, that she came into teaching to have more time with her kids and two, that she shouldn't have to make her own resources! She didn't last very long, as I am sure you can imagine! The truth is we can't make more time but we can free it up. One great resource I found recently was the CheckMark extension from EdTech Team. This amazing little tool could literally save teachers hours in marking time and I didn't hesitate in sharing this with every teacher friend I know. If I was to say 'clickable comments in Docs' would this whet your appetite enough? We can't get away from some of these administrative tasks but if there are technological tools that can make them easier, let's find them! I also like to keep on trend with what is going on in the edtech world and find Google releases updates all the time - it's literally 'blink' and you'll miss it. A few of these are listed below:
Google's Education Blog
The best resource is possibly the most obvious: YouTube. As a Religious Studies specialist I liked to find relevant channels and vloggers who would stimulate my learning or be useful in my classroom. Don't forget: the students will find these if you don't! Be ahead of the game or at least ready to ride the wave!
2200 Rest. I would love to say this is my usual bedtime but I am being optimistic and trying to set a good example in this blog! It's always my aim to work less and rest more...here's to finding that balance.
I hope this blog has been useful on how I try to use technology tools throughout my day. In no way is this exhaustive but it is typical. Please leave your comments below.