Go Go Gadget, Google!

I imagine learners in one of two allegories:

At one extreme, the gaggle of famished juvenile robins, freshly hatched from their proverbial undergraduate institution, with mouths wide open and scraggly necks stretched toward the sky, screeching for their next meal.

At the other extreme, the robust, agile, and majestic eagles, their wide wingspans and sharpened talons, their precise vision and adroit sense of direction, scavenging the landscape for every last bit of nutritious information.

The transition from top-down education — with learners passively waiting for educators to “feed” them — to learner-focused training — with students taking more ownership and initiative — has occurred over time on the broader scale of education and continues to transpire at the individual level.

Interactive technology — inside and outside the classroom — is promoting self-reflection, self-evaluation, and critical thinking among burgeoning PA students. In 2013, Rowe discussed the development of “autonomous learning” as students developed cases using Google Drive. Through using interactive modalities, students’ perspective on their learning and their relationship with information is strengthened.

At Shenandoah University, there has been a positive and enriching trend toward the use of technology, specifically Google Apps, to promote self-directed learning, critical thinking, and self-reflection.

1. Google Docs

Google Docs is similar to Microsoft Word, except that it enables students and faculty to collaborate on information in real-time. Once a document is created, anyone who has been given permission can simultaneously edit the document. This allows faculty members to add comments to the document as part of their review process.

One example of how we use this at Shenandoah is in the development of “Learning Issues” during our Clinical Integration Seminar. Students create a Google Doc to keep a running list of questions (learning issues) that arise as they work through a student-centered patient case.

At the end of the session, each student researches several learning issues and records their findings in the Google Doc. All other students can then view and edit the information. Faculty uses the “Comments” feature to encourage deeper thinking or to give clarity on concepts. Students use this information to learn new material and study for exams.

2. Google Slides

Google Slides is similar to Microsoft PowerPoint but, again, is an interactive platform with live-editing capabilities that promotes critical thinking. Once a slide presentation is created, it can be added to and subtracted from as multiple groups of students review the information and add their knowledge and perspective. This type of ‘living document’ promotes critical thinking by challenging students to add or subtract necessary pieces of information.

We have used this tool to stimulate collaborative creation of a clinical case. A group of students works together to create a case presentation, and then the cases are presented to the class and shared with classmates. As the students review each other’s cases they can add or subtract information. Often these cases are used as study tools for ‘classic’ presentations.

3. Google Forms

Google Forms is a simple way to create surveys that can be distributed to faculty or students. At Shenandoah, our students use this tool in a variety of settings. First we require the students to submit peer-to-peer reflections by answering several short answer questions on a Google Forms platform. Using this tool for reflective purposes is a way of collecting a wide swath of information from a cohort of students into one central location. Similarly, we use Google Forms for informal course and instructor evaluations, which can be set up as either an anonymous or a name-included survey. As the forms are completed, each response is submitted and automatically added to a centralized document, which is then easy for faculty to review.

4. Google Sites

Each of our students creates a Google Site page — essentially a simple webpage — to outline their journey through PA school and reflect on various activities and assignments. Faculty members periodically review these reflections and leave comments either commending them for their honest contemplation or encouraging them to probe deeper.

The real-time interactive and collaborative feature of Google Apps is what sets it apart from traditional, one-plane platforms. This is also what allows the fledgling eagle-learner to gain strength and become a critical-thinking, lifelong learner.