Facilitating On-line Collaboration and Argument Analysis with Google+ Hangout

By on March 3, 2013

The day of graduation I reflected on my experience as an Educational Technology graduate student at San Diego State University. I asked myself, “What skills and tools did I have to master in order to successfully complete this program?” I quickly concluded that an essential skill was collaboration, and a tool that helped me do this was Google+. I had to master both of these in order to perform at an optimal level.

Like many other programs, my professors assigned collaborative challenges that asked us to solve a specific problem, and create an online deliverable that demonstrated our solution/response. One challenge I faced when completing these tasks was finding time to actually collaborate with my team. Meeting at the library or a coffee shop was nearly impossible since members of my group were constantly juggling commitments between work, family, and school. On top of that, many of my team members didn’t even live in California. As part of our online program, I was teamed with students in New York, Florida, Arizona, and even China.

Needless to say, face to face collaboration was not an option. At the time, Google+ was in its “field test” stages--members of our cohort were lucky enough to take advantage of the new product. It gave us the flexibility to share, design, develop, and collaborate online. I immediately became a more productive student and professional. Best of all, it was free!

The Problem
In fall 2012, I asked my freshman English students at Westview High School to read an article on how technology is shaping our world. During our conversations I randomly polled my students. I asked, “How many of you have used Facebook?” I would guess roughly 39 of 43 raised their hands indicating that they had. I then asked, “How many of you have used Google+ ?” To my surprise, only 5 of 43 raised their hands. I then asked, “How many of you have met online to complete an academic project/assignment?” Sadly, no one raised their hands.

It was at that moment I realized my students lacked the skill, knowledge, and ability to effectively collaborate online. They lacked a practical and essential skill that would be expected of them later in their academic, and professional careers. I had to teach them how to do this!

The Plan
I began with an essential question: “How do I put my students in an situation where they can use technology to continue to develop literacy skill and apply 21st century skills to become more productive students?” I wanted this experience to be relevant, productive, and most importantly, I wanted them to develop skills. My solution was to have kids collaborate using LiteracyTA’s Argument Poster and Google+. They would use these two tools to analyze a text and collaborate online.

Their task: (1) Form groups of four; (2) Collaborate completely online to analyze a writer's argument. Groups had to invite me to observe/take questions during one of their online collaboration meetings; and (3) Groups had to design, develop, and present their findings with Knovio or Present Me. This would be their online deliverable.
My learning objectives were simple. Students will be able to...
  • Analyze, synthesize, use inductive and deductive reasoning to effectively analyze argument.
  • Use visual and verbal modes to explain and persuade.
  • Interact effectively with peers, followers, and leaders to accomplish goals.
  • Apply an array of tools to appropriately accomplish a goal.

The Steps
It is important to note, that prior to assigning this project we had roughly 6 in-class experiences where students identified and analyzed claims, evidence, rhetorical appeals, rhetorical devices, key terms, and audience. We did most of this work together, under the document camera, and participated in numerous partnered, small, and whole group discussions. I scaffolded this work prior to assigning this task because I knew the online environments would be new and challenging. I made sure their literacy skills were developed to a point where they felt somewhat confident in accomplishing this task.

Step 1: Introduced their task: “In groups of four, collaborate completely online in order to analyze a writer's argument, design, develop, and present your findings in an online deliverable.” (using LTA’s Argument Poster as a guide).
Step 2: Watched a Google+ Hangout Tutorial in class. I asked how they think they could use this to help them as students? Explained that they would be expected to use Google Hangout to collaborate.
Step 3: Watched the Knovio and Present Me Tutorials. Explained they would be expected to use one of these tools to create their online deliverable.
Step 4: Introduced the Four Student Roles.
  • Analytical Thinker:
    • ALL members analyze various elements of argument during online collaboration meetings. Manager will assign specific elements to members.
  • Technologist:
    • Submit group information to Google Form.
    • Create/Share Presentation.
    • Invite team to Google Hangout.
    • Post on Google Group.
  • Designer:
    • Designs/creates the overall look of the presentation.
  • Presenter:
    • Presents deliverable on Knovio or Present Me.
  • Manager
    • Manages the entire project and keeps thing moving forward.
    • Organizes times to meet.
    • Assign analysis roles.

Step 5: Students select their team/Assign roles. (I emphasize the importance of choosing roles that fit each member’s strengths).
Step 6: Students determine meeting times. (They also must inform me when they want me to meet them online via our Google Doc).

Step 7: Students collaborate, analyze, design, develop online deliverable.
Step 8: Students submit link to online deliverable. (via Google Groups)

The Results
I have taught this lesson about four times since my first, and every time students develop the skill, confidence, and the ability to collaborate, analyze, by collaborating online. To my delight, students are now meeting online to study for the other academic classes. They are applying the skills they learned with our Argument Analysis project to increase their performance and study more efficiently in their other core classes.

Teaching transferable skills is always the objective. It is the message I preach with all 21st century literacy skills. I communicate to my students that when we practice a literacy skill, we are practicing in hopes of getting them to a place where they can apply it in another class. I teach 21st century skills so that they can become more productive students and one day succeed as professionals. They now automatically brainstorm ways to use technology, to do things more effectively and efficiently.

Students have communicated to me that they now create online study groups because it is difficult to meet face to face due to athletic practice, band practice, club activities, and commitments to daycare immediately after school. Google+ Hangout provides students with a viable online alternative to meeting face to face. Students from my Freshman English course have said:

“Google+ has helped me because it is an easy way to communicate and work with others online. I especially enjoy hangouts because we can talk to group members and work on projects at home, rather than in school. Google+ has a lot of great features that are helpful inside and outside the classroom.”

“Google+ in a classroom is helpful because one can make it easier to communicate with your teacher and fellow classmates. For example now. Google + is also more professional than other sites and has better features. Google+ is easy for making groups to connect and actions like the Google hangout make it easier to have an online meeting.”

Next Steps
Pushing myself and my students to employ...
  • Problem Based Learning.
  • The Flipped Classroom: Using Knovio or Present Me.
  • Online Tutorials
  • Online Student/Teacher Conferences

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The Conversation

Mr. LeMaster Mr. LeMaster 3/3/2013

Wonderful post, Jose! Your students are learning so many valuable 21st century skills. I have had my students dabble with Google+ Hangout, too. They seem to really like it. Before we began our work online, we created group norms. I divided my students into groups and asked each group to present a set of norms to the class. They had to come up with an acronym that represented our online work and clearly articulated our expectations for behavior and attitude. We voted on our favorite norm. We decided on TRANSFORM.Think of reasonable answers note student effort and form original relationships through media.I'm not sure about the norm, but at least they were in to it and motivated enough to create one on their own.

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Mr. Cordell Mr. Cordell 8/21/2014

Good stuff team.

R Lewis Cordell
Sage Creek High
Carlsbad CA

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