During my current semester in my masters program our cohort has been using a google community to share work, upload screen captures of our weekly sessions, and communicate asynchronously around our shared learning. In using this platform for myself I began to see the merits for class. It would provide a space for students to review material presented in class and allow them to upload and share ideas and learning tools they have found. Google communities can be open (shared freely to anyone) or closed (shared only with those of the group). A discussion around the merits of open vs closed in class resulted in our biology 12 class preferring to have an open community to share the collective learning of our group with others. What follows here is a review of the initial startup and use of this space as a collaborative area to learn.

Initial Thoughts

When starting the group for my class I had visions that all students would actively use the space to contribute to the curation of learning resources for the class. It would be an area that students could go to if they were struggling on a concept and find extra resources to help them. Students could also ask questions of others, including myself, if they had found the day’s information confusing or difficult to understand.

Set-up and Beginnings

Google has made their community space very easy to use and creating the community was easy. All you require is a google+ account and you are set. Beyond the initial set-up of the site, attention to FOIPA details had to be worked out as well. A document modified from another school district outlining use of a website hosting data outside of BC (Canada) was created and returned by students that were going to use the site. A small bump in the road occurred during this stage as one student has not been granted access, but after a conversation with the parents a compromise has been worked out that will allow access through a moderated account by the parents.

I created categories that corresponded to the units of study and began to add video content to the site via YouTube links. This is all very easy to perform and takes little time to do. All that was left now was for students to begin adding to the community.

Reality Hits

No one is using it! I continued to go to the community daily to check in with the hopes that students were adding content or asking questions. Nothing showed up. I was sure this was going to be a useful tool for my class. To say I was disappointed would not be an understatement. I planned to ask the class why no one was using the community (well at least using it the way I had intended) when students began to ask if our presentations could be added there to review. I agreed and began to add slideshare presentations to the community. A few classes went by and I began to notice students were actually using these presentations in class to follow along on phones. They were still taking notes and drawing diagrams from the board, but were more effectively engaging in discussions in class because they did not feel as though they were going to “miss” anything during the presentation. Cool, an unexpected divergence from the initial reason I had set up the space.

Going Forward

I still hope to see more engagement on the site itself. Students are looking at the videos and using the resources I put on. One student explained that they had notifications turned on so they  would know if a new post had happened and found it useful to keep up to date. I hope that students begin to add their own materials so that the space can grow and be more useful in the future. I am debating whether or not to create a new community for every biology 12 class to see if other classes use it differently or if it needs to be left as a curation tool for other classes to add to. Having all the information already existing could be a positive for the new class, but also may be hindering new ways of thinking because they may rely on pre-existing ways of using the space.