Students at Oxon Hill High School’s online student newspaper, The Searchlight, may not spend their days designing a print edition of their publication, but they’ve discovered an easy way to manage and edit their articles — Google.
The students use Google Apps for Education, a suite of applications from word-processing to website design, to write, edit and publish their stories.
Ashley King, 16, an 11th-grader and reporter for The Searchlight, helped another student reporter answer editors’ questions via Google Documents’ live commenting function.
“It’s great, because people can leave comments and you can reply and collaborate on articles,” Ashley said. “...It’s a lot better than dealing with handwritten notes and comments.”
Students at 38 Prince George’s County public schools, including all 30 high schools, have access to the free programs, which officials and students said helps them to learn in new and more efficient ways, from the use of multimedia tools to teachers providing quicker feedback on work throughout the writing process, not just after something has been turned in.
Meghen Ehrich, a county schools instructional technology specialist, said Google Apps also provides a professional development outlet, since teachers can share lesson plans and best practices with each other, either in the same school and across the county.
Ehrich, who trains teachers to use the various apps, said the programs help teachers and students collaborate on a real-time basis, whether in the classroom or at home or the library after school.
“Google Docs allows students to collaborate with their classmates together in class, in another section or another school altogether, either simultaneously or at separate times,” she said. “And with Google’s ‘commenting’ feature, they can see feedback from their teachers immediately so they can revise their work. It’s really an ongoing learning process.”
Briant Coleman, a county schools spokesman, said a report showed that between February 2012 and July 2012, the system featured between 37,000 and 39,000 users reading and contributing in the various applications.
Jason Flanagan, an English and journalism teacher at Oxon Hill High School, said he had groups of students work simultaneously on slides through Google’s slideshow presentation app as they read Julius Caesar. He said teachers have been slowly incorporating more aspects of the software’s functionality.
“The teachers have to become more comfortable with the software [before you’ll see more widespread use],” Flanagan said.
Hyattsville resident Earnest Moore, president of the Prince George’s County Parents and Teachers Association Council, said parents have given generally positive reviews, especially teachers’ new ability to collaborate more quickly and directly with students in and out of the classroom. But some students eventually would like to see the system better integrated in their standard social media landscape.
“They don’t like having to constantly log into the system to follow up, rather than just doing it through Twitter and Facebook,” Moore said. “They’d just like to have it more in line with what they currently use.”