Monday, July 3, 2017

Google Innovator Program Mentoring: Some Mentoring Reflections

For the past year I have had the good fortune to work with a new Google for Education Certified Innovator, Austin Houp (Google+ and Twitter), supporting him as a mentor. Most of the ideas here are his reflections, along with mine as a mentor. Here is a fantastic New Google Site called Global ConnectEDU that Austin put together to keep the project moving forward, another testament to his commitment to continue this learning journey. 

Although I have been a Teacher / Technology Coach for the past four years, which has obvious elements of mentoring, this is the first opportunity I have had to work with a professional peer over an extended period of time. Some special characteristic of this year-long endeavour was that we worked between Japan and the United States, and more importantly, I could include students in two of my classes. (one for the project, and another with an idea we generated through one of our online Hangouts due to students studying primary source documents on Christopher Columbus) 

The experience has further reinforced my belief that we are indeed very fortunate to have digital technologies that allow collaboration and shared learning across the globe. 

The first key part of the project was to connect students by having them collaborate on a shared Google My Maps map on natural disasters around the world. My Grade 8 students focused on earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions in Asia, fitting in nicely with our course curriculum. 

Austin and I had several great conversations during check-ins and online Hangouts throughout the year as his project evolved. We both agreed that this has been a rewarding growth experience and appreciate the new connections we have made. Although Austin is now moving out of the classroom for a new blended Director of Technology / Curriculum Coordinator position we will be in touch and working with his teachers, in the hope of bringing others into new projects. 

In our reflections, Austin acknowledged that his ambitions were bigger than the final result, accepting that this is often the case. This has allowed me to consider whether I was thinking forward enough, and perhaps could have discussed the scope of the project a little more carefully. The map on natural disasters around the world managed to include schools in Japan, South Africa, China, Turkey, and Australia to work with his school and several others in the United States. In this sense, the scope of the project was wide and very successful. In terms of what more could have been done, I could have thought a little bit more. Our final meeting brought out some ideas that perhaps we could have considered in the beginning. Regardless, in my experience with being part of the global edtech community I've seen the difficulty of getting schools to collaborate. This project involved students across five continents. (if we consider Turkey as European, but could also be considered Asian) 

Austin expressed a feeling that the activity was collaborative, but too passive, and would like a more synchronous approach. It is difficult to have students work together in real time across time zones, and not all students have devices and internet at home, rendering meeting online for homework an incredible (but not impossible) challenge. We've discussed making future collaborations more active, or in the least have students visually see who they are working with, such as video feedback. One of his suggestions is to harness Flipgrid to have students collaborate through video. 

Another area I perhaps could have been more thoughtful as a mentor was suggesting how to reach out to more online communities. Austin did take to Twitter and some of his online communities early on, but suggested that he in should have reached out to Google Educator Groups (GEG) earlier on, though he did as the project progressed. I would have served him better by suggesting this. 

His own reflections also included new ways to add to the student-developed maps, such as creating YouTube videos describing the topic, or drawings and posters that match the project, allowing students to share more of their own self-generated content. Another was to build the use of spreadsheets into the project, but acknowledged that this would be a higher level of learning. (finding and manipulating data) Additionally, further challenges included getting buy-in from classes, and building projects that are more active and less passive - we agree that students ideally meet face-to-face in order to really make that "human connection". 

Some additional thoughts with regard to my part in this process includes a need to think more deeply about how I ask questions throughout the process, perhaps the most important one being "What will success look like?". I needed to evaluate the project plan better from the beginning, in order to offer better suggestions. (strengths, weaknesses, deeper ideas to consider, strategies for reaching out) 

This was an excellent experience for both of us. We managed to maintain contact in spite of busy schedules and time zones nearly half a day apart, both through fairly regular Hangouts and email. It reminds me that the success of a collaborative (and individual) project requires a serious commitment from all involved. Austin was successful on many levels, bringing many people together with his project, and he is clearly thinking about future projects. Indeed, he is thinking of what he refers to as a "Global Collaboration Book" - an admittedly "big idea", but we all know great things start from ideas. As he embarks on a new journey as Director of Technology and Curriculum Coordinator at his school he will be in a prime position to mentor his own colleagues and use this experience to enhance teaching and learning in his local community and others outside of it. 


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