Google for Education took an early lead in looks and likes at ISTE2016 with the announcement of four new tools to help teachers do what they do best. These announcements covered expanded functions in Google Expeditions, Google Forms, Google Cast and Chromebooks. These changes were pleasant surprises for me, as they represented significant updates to trusted platforms. It is still early in the summer to be thinking about improved outcomes for next year, but here are my initial thoughts about where we can go with GAFE for 2016-17.

  1. Google Expeditions: Google Expeditions give teachers the tools to lead their classes on VR tours via Google Cardboard. Previously, the only way to experience Expeditions was via the Google Expedition Pioneer Program. We were lucky to have the opportunity welcome them last March. Our students had a blast and learned about both the content areas and the potential applications of VR. With this update, teachers have the ability to use Expeditions for everything from day-long summits to reframed recess. The tool is currently available only for Android, but Google promises an iOS version soon. I am excited to see what can happen as the Expeditions platform and VR viewers enter the mainstream in education. On top of this formal announcement, I am really excited to explore how the Google Street View app allows students and teachers to create their own “expeditions” of places near and far.
  2. Google Forms: I have said it before, but I’ll repeat it here: I can’t get enough of Google Forms. Pulse checks, do nows, self evaluation, formal surveys, formative assessment…these are just some of the applications. The latter here has just received a huge upgrade. In the past, the interface for quizzes in Forms was fantastic, but the feedback loop was fractured. There were ways to visualize responses and even correct quizzes with Add-ons like Flubaroo. While these served a purpose, there was a lag and individual student responses did not get the attention they needed. That will change with Quizzes in Google Forms. Now, a teacher can turn a Form into a Quiz and assign point values to questions and allow auto grading. There are even advanced settings to allow teachers to delay the release of the answers and answer key and publish (or not) point values. I will be interested to see how teachers use this function and how it complements quizzes delivered vis school LMS and/or text-based online platforms.
  3. Google Cast: Google announced Google Cast for Education, a free Chrome app that allows students and teachers to share their screens wirelessly. Per the announcement “Cast for Education carries video and audio across complex school networks, has built-in controls for teachers and works with Google Classroom so it’s easy to invite your students.” If it’s deployed and used as directed, Cast could make pushing content and pulling from students’ screens much easier than it used to be: no wires, no passcodes, no third-party software. This announcement comes at a perfect time for our school, as we move into the first year of our BYOL program. It will be interesting to see where this takes us in three areas: 1) day-to-day functionality, 2) ongoing assessment our own LMS, Schoology and 3) longer-term planning on projection and interactive whiteboards.
  4. Chromebooks: Love them or hate them on a personal level–I choose love–Chromebooks are surging in the educational market as iPads lose their foothold. With this announcement, Google partners with EdTechTeacher to provide bundled pricing and targeted training on Google Apps for Chromebooks. My experience with the EdTechTeacher has been 100% positive both in the area of professional learning and leadership around technology. They know their stuff, they approach the tools as educators–and passionate ones at that, and they strike an increasingly better balance on the hardware front. As a prime example, they have rebranded their iPad Summit in Boston as an Innovation Summit. I am excited to see what this means for our school and how this positions the Chromebook in the market for a new generation of students.

Happy summer and happy exploration! For many in the Boston area at least, this is the first full week of summer vacation. These tools and questions will give us plenty to play with.