What happens when the dream of digital learning and teaching becomes reality even before the Digital Pact? At the Voltaire School, a comprehensive school campus with grammar school education in Potsdam (Germany), students and teachers use Acer Chromebooks and Google Classroom as much as they use paper and pen.
“Hello Jan, you have found a good approach with your interpretation. I just want to give you a few small tips.” The pupil doesn’t hear this feedback live in the classroom, but at home at his desk. It is the audio commentary on a Google document that his German teacher Björn Nölte recorded and delivered to him via Google Classroom.
This digital form of teaching is already part of everyday life in the tenth grade German class at this school in Potsdam. The school uses 29 Acer Chromebooks in combination with the free applications of Google’s G Suite for Education: this solution makes it easier for both teachers and students to teach and communicate with each other.
Acer Chromebook Spin 11: a tough laptop, perfect for the classroom
The hardware is based on the Acer Chromebook Spin 11, a convertible that can be operated like a tablet PC via the touchscreen function, but is also a fully-fledged notebook thanks to the keyboard. “The students really appreciate that they are not restricted in the way they operate the device,” explains Björn Nölte. “In some courses, our students have the choice between a stationary PC, a tablet, their own device or the Acer Chromebook. Most people choose the Chromebook. For my subjects – German and History – this device is definitely the most attractive. With the pen on the screen, students can take notes very well and at the same time often have to write longer texts, which is best done with the keyboard.”
The Acer Chromebooks are an optimal platform for all Google applications, and the Chrome OS is made for teaching; long charging and waiting were simply done away with, and the battery lasts a whole school day. The Chromebook boots up in under 10 seconds and provides quick access to the Docs word processing program, Sheets spreadsheet application, Slides presentation application, and Google Forms survey and quiz program. The administration of several devices is done via the Chrome Mobile Device Management (MDM): “I can administer the Acer Chromebooks centrally, so the devices are always ready for use and up to date”, confirms Björn Nölte. Because many things run on the cloud, there are only a few programs and files on the devices, so different students can use the same Chromebook for their lessons. The teacher can centrally control which applications are accessible to students with a single click of the mouse, and centrally set settings and restrictions for all devices.
Teaching more efficiently
The core of G Suite for Education is Google Classroom, that allows the whole class to be organized and takes communication between teacher and students to a new level. Nölte, who also works as an upper school coordinator at the Voltaire School, uses the solution intensively for his lessons. “Google Classroom is clearly structured. There is a stream in which entries from me or from the students appear chronologically. Under the button ‘Course Tasks’ I can distribute tasks and also monitor the account of individual students to track progress.”
This benefits cooperation in particular, which in turn makes teaching more efficient. “One day students were asked to make a presentation on the Cold War. Each pair of pupils was working on one slide; they could click on the favorite theme and then design together the slide with a picture and an explanatory text. Once their slide was completed, the students could have access to the other groups’ slides and even help their mates where necessary.” With this approach, the faster students are not bored and no class time is wasted as a whole because all students always have an overview and can use every minute in a meaningful way. “I didn’t have to summarize everything again in the last minutes of the lesson, but was already able to deal with further questions on the subject.”
More fun and more motivation
Nölte’s students are very enthusiastic, after all, they can also access their Google Classroom account after school: “You are at home, but you can still work with the other students as if you were still together in class,” praises a tenth-grader from Nölte’s German class. “We can write in one document and delegate tasks, which makes it considerably easier.” The fact that their teacher can theoretically follow every step they take in a Google Doc, for example, doesn’t bother the students, quite the opposite: “If I don’t want Mr. Nölte to see what I’m doing, I could simply remove him from my document as a user. But in general I feel safer if the teacher can monitor my work and give me tips now and then. In any case, now I have more fun, am more motivated and am looking forward to German lessons more than before.”
Nadja Möhring can only confirm that the students are more motivated since they started working with Acer Chromebooks and Google Classroom. The teacher teaches German and Spanish at the Voltaire School and observes that the students have become faster when it comes to longer texts: “They start immediately and write faster. In the end, this results in better writing, because the students look at their texts with each other via Google Docs and thus learn more from each other.” In addition, they can intervene more quickly in class and participate much better in the solution process for the tasks their students are currently working on. “If the focus is off target, I can still steer in that moment and not correct it afterwards. This leads to better results overall.”
The possibility of simply exchanging ideas, posting something and interacting with each other online “speaks perfectly to the reality of life of the young students”, confirms Nadja Möhring. At the same time, it’s forward-looking, as one student points out again: “Later we’ll have to work with digital tools anyway, so it’s good if we already do that at school.”