Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Experiences Teaching with Google Apps at the University of Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame's Teaching and Learning Kaneb Center has found a successful way to infuse technology with developing their TA's and faculty through the Teaching Well Using Technology Certification Program. As a Ph.D. candidate in Computing Technology in Education, the Kaneb Center serves as an encouraging model on how an institution can fuse cutting edge technology with teaching and learning.  The following is a final report on my experiences piloting Google Apps at Notre Dame for the Teaching Well Using Technology Certification Program.
This school year, I utilized a suite of free Google Apps in our Military Science & Leadership 101 and 102 courses to serve the following functions:

Google Sites (wiki) hosted our course in an open platform that served as the main hub and learning management system to mash up other services. 
 See for the course home page. Internally ,we also used Google Sites as a collaborative wiki space to work on a group project; see

Google Docs Presentations was used to publish and share instructor and student open courseware "PowerPoint" lectures and presentations.  Additionally, it opened up a backchannel chat discussion during class. See for an example.

Google Blogger was used by the students as a blogging platform to reflect on the course reading and extend class discussions beyond the classroom.  See the blog assignment and list of our example blogs at 

Google Calendar was used to indicate lecture and assignment schedule.

Google Groups was used as FAQ/Help discussion forum for students to aid one another in using these technologies.

Google Docs Forms were used for surveys and polling.

Using Google Docs Forms I was able to create web-based surveys that allowed me to collect data for my action research to answer the following technology integration research questions:
1)      If I opened up our class and hosted our course publicly on a Google Sites Wiki, would my students and outsiders find it useful as a reference during and after the course?
2)      If I uploaded my PowerPoint Lectures on Google Docs and embedded them in my course wiki would it change the learning interactions inside and outside of class?
3)      Could weekly journal blog posts be used as a tool to hold students accountable for the reading, keep up with the required reading, and prepare them for class discussion?
4)      Could public, collaborative, and meaningful wiki projects serve as an effective replacement for written papers?

To see the results of the quantitative and qualitative responses to all the survey questions click here and hereBelow I have reported some of the major highlights.

How useful did you find the Military Science and Leadership Course Google Site for our class? (1 Not Useful – 5 Very Useful)
Average =3.9

Would your return to the course site after the course is over?
10/12 participants said yes
2/12 participants said no

How useful was Google Docs? (1 Not Useful – 5 Very Useful)
Average =4.3

How beneficial was it to have access to all power point lectures published and shared on the Google Site? (1 Not beneficial – 5 Very beneficial)
All 12/12 participants responded with 5

Did you prefer blogging to reading quizzes as a way to hold you accountable for and keep up with the reading?
13/15 prefer blogging
2/15 prefer quizzes

Did the weekly blogging help you reflect and apply the book?
(1 Not Helpful – 5 Very Helpful)
Average =3.92

Did blogging help prepare you for class discussion?
(1 Not Helpful – 5 Very Helpful)
Average =4

Should we continue to do blogs?
All  15/15 participants responded with yes

Would you rather write a paper or do the wiki project?
14/15 participants prefer the wiki
1/15 participants prefer a paper

Should we continue the wiki project?
14/15 participants said yes
1/15 participants said no

In the last 8 months since the course site was created there have been over 1,300 hits. The survey and visitor traffic data from Google Analytics data showed that students were visiting the website at least one time a week.  This data supports my interruption of blended learning theory and the benefits of a  “third space” for teaching learning that lies between face-to-face classrooms and fully online education.

In this introductory course on military science and leadership, my objective was to introduce future Army officers to the challenges and competencies of personal leadership.  My teaching philosophy guided me in striving to make 21st-century critical thinking "chess players" (not checker pieces) out of my students.  By using the suite of Google Apps tools, I was able to meet this goal.  Instead of administering pop reading quizzes or having students showing up to class unprepared, blogging helped my students keep up with the reading, forced them to reflect, and therefore they came to class prepared to discuss the concepts explained in the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleInstead of giving multiple choice exams and written papers, Google Sites wiki capabilities allowed me to give students authentic and collaborative projects that classmates and outsiders could use as a meaningful resource and reference.  Lastly, instead of having a teacher-centered, one-way, "death by PowerPoint" lecture, Google Docs Presentation allowed me to create a live backchannel, to publish the slides,and to allow students to download, create and share their own presentations.  In addition, by giving students access to my lecture slides before, during, and after class, this freed up valuable class time, allowing us to spend more face to face interactions on group projects, student presentations, deeper discussion, and application exercises.   Furthermore, this experience of using Google Docs Presentation, in particular, lead to a research paper, PowerPoint 2.0: A Heuristic Model for Usability and Blended Design, that explored the new educational dynamics created by these Web 2.0 technologies. I presented these findings at the 2009 Midwest Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Conference.

In sum, by blending different types of learning tools, resources, and activities at different places and times through the different ways students interact with each other, the technologies created new opportunities for teaching and learning interactions.

About the Author: Alex Ambrose is an Adjunct Professor of Military Science in the Army ROTC department and a Ph.D. Candidate at Nova Southeastern's Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences Computing Technology in Education program.  For more information and to contact him, visit

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