Reflection: Google Teachers Christmas Meetup

I was honoured when an email from Ross Mahon dropped on my virtual mat in November, if a little mystified by what “Google Teachers Christmas Meetup” might entail. I thought, to start with, I’d be too tired for it by the end of term, but then berated myself for my lack of ambition and booked my bus tickets before I could change my mind.

The day duly arrived, and I found myself in the other Google offices with quite a lot of familiar faces from GTAUK last year, and some new faces, and some faces I sort of recognised from Twitter. It was really lovely to catch up with people and find out what they’d been doing with the things we learned. It was also good to hear the news that the next Google Teacher Academy might be taking place in the UK: keep your eyes peeled for it.

Not having been sure what to expect, it would be wrong to say I was disappointed, but the thing didn’t have the buzz I had expected. We had a presentation about how Google are going to be working more closely with Vital, and some presentations from GCTs from last year about how they have implemented stuff in their schools – all very inspiring but almost all primary, unfortunately for me – and really, the whole thing felt very passive. I challenged myself to come away with five new ideas to blog about, but it wasn’t that sort of event.

Still, there were definitely some positives. Tom Barrett led a discussion at the half way point which focused on the place of digital literacy in learning; my learning points from this were:
1. It’s not realistic to train teachers once and expect that to last for their entire careers
2. If technology goes wrong, teachers are unlikely to ever try it again (knew this already – it’s the same as with anything new, like group work – but definitely worth repeating)
3. According to Oliver Quinlan, tech has revealed teachers can’t cope with kids who know more than them – another disappointing truism in the vein of number 2
4. Digital literacy should not be repackaged as e-safety

I think I owe a namecheck or two more there but I can’t recall who said what now, sorry.

I have more new techs in my remit at school this year and the discussion was really helpful for me in thinking through how I might go about training and encouraging staff. I think the major issue is fear of it all going wrong; it doesn’t feel like we have the time or opportunity to make mistakes, which is kind of ironic since nobody learned to ride a bike by never falling off one. In my opinion, students are largely digitally literate, so we can learn from them; in return, we can teach them effective and appropriate usage in the workplace. As long as we know what that looks like: checking Facebook surreptitiously on one’s iPhone while the class complete a task is not appropriate usage. Just sayin’.

Other useful things I want to explore following on from the presentations are Sketch Up and KinoMaps, and I also have a list of iPod apps to try out thanks to Nick Dennis and our discussion in the pre-meetup pub meetup. My class set of Kindles has moved on to its new school, but we have a class set of iPods in its place, so I will be working with those over the next few months. I also had quite a long discussion with Steve Bunce about why he wants to bring knitting into schools: very interesting.

Finally, we did get some mighty fine swag out of this: a Christmas gift from Google, if you will, in the form of a Chromebook. I was a bit open-mouthed when Ross said these were being given to all participants and didn’t quite believe him at first; but no, that Chromebook came home on the bus with me. Naturally all I’ve done with it so far is Tweetdeck, forums and blogging, but it was an amazing gesture and I will definitely be playing around with it and contributing to the Chromebook feedback group, when I find out where it is. It did make me giggle, to begin with, when the Blogger interface refused to load properly; but that has magically fixed itself since yesterday. I like to think it was me tweeting about it that prompted the fix.

Overall? Definitely worth going, even without the swag: it wasn’t the full-on smash-and-grab that GTAUK was, but it’s nice to keep my hand in and meet some people face to face. I enjoy the “big theme” discussions that take place on Twitter, though I read far more than I contribute, and it was educational to be part of one irl. Google seem really committed to education in the UK, especially with their new partnership with Vital, and it will be interesting to see how it develops.

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