by Katie Rybakova
My students this past summer embarked on a Google20time project. In fact, I embarked on a Google20time project with them (katierybakova.com). Although not a new concept, it was my first time to try it personally as well as integrate it as a college course assignment.
The “rules” are simple—students have 20% of class time to dedicate to their own educational experiences that they create. Based on what Google employees do, this project harnesses student creativity, self-motivation, time-management, and ultimately, produces a product of some kind that students are proud of. At the risk of sounding overly cliché: the possibilities are endless.
Google20time projects are not a new pedagogical strategy by any means. Many classrooms include these projects, both at the college and high school level. What I will share here is the way that I “pitched” this project to my students, their ultimate final projects, and what I learned about my students (and myself) in the process. This course was focused on teaching with technology for pre-service English teachers in their junior year of college. When I inherited the course, the Google20time project on the previous syllabus (written by my mentor) peaked my interest and I saw it as a great way of engaging students in an inquiry-driven project while using technology to accomplish a goal.
To start out this project, I asked students to watch the two following videos—one as an introduction to the project (the Google employee video) and the second as a way to inspire them as to what they could do.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xupHuEk8p7g - High school student projects
Because the course was online, I also discussed in a “Word document lecture” that the project required that students spent about 1.5-2 hours out of the week working on their own goals. These goals could be personal, professional, or philanthropic. The students were encouraged to experiment with all three but were not required to.
Over the course of the summer, I checked in with students periodically with “progress reports” but for the most part left this project to the students to practice independently. In culmination, the students submitted a “TED talk” video where they discussed what they accomplished. Below are a few of these videos, shared with permission from the creators.
The major takeaways from this project included a variety of reflections—they varied from logistical factors to 21st century literacy skills and career skills. These takeaways were:
1. Recognizing that failure is in itself a learning experience
I didn’t anticipate the flurry of emails I would get the nights leading up to the TED talk video deadline. Or perhaps I did, but not necessarily with the theme of the emails. The question I posed for the TED talk video was “what did you accomplish?” When asked that question, a handful of students worried that they did not have anything fruitful to show for their Google20time project. I asked them what they learned, and they talked about the ways they did not succeed but that they learned about personal growth, understanding their limits, and their need to work on time-management skills. Some talked about how they switched their topics mid-summer and that it was hard to find an accomplishment within two scopes. This, in and of itself, was an accomplishment. Students with these kinds of “failures” learned about their learning style, their personal needs, and ways in which to overcome failure.
2. Intangible achievements are as important as tangible achievements
I was impressed with the amount of tangible achievements these learners made. Leah’s project was making pottery, and she ultimately joined an organization called “Potters for Pulse” after the Pulse Club shooting in Orlando occurred mid-summer. She raised over 300 dollars as a part of this organization to help the people in Orlando touched by this tragedy.
What I thought was interesting were the emails about intangible accomplishments and if they “counted” as accomplishments for their TED talks. These intangibles ranged from overcoming and making progress with personal issues such as anxiety and depression to becoming self-aware of personal stress-relief and time-off needs. I found myself asking why students felt like these were not accomplishments. Teachers need those kinds of accomplishments—if only we were able to earn and present grades like “confidence level,” “time-management skills,” and “work ethic.” These would speak volumes over A’s and B’s in content areas. Sure, products are accomplishments we can touch and feel, but intangibles are not easily forgotten and left to collect dust.
3. Having so few boundaries can be both exhilarating and overwhelming
I still am not sure if I would re-create the Google20time project in the same way I did this summer. I think if I were to do it again I’d ask students to choose and focus on ONE goal rather than three, and to commit fully to that goal. I’d give more options for reflection, such as vlogging or tweeting. I had asked students to blog each week reflecting on their progress. Visit http://angelakwitheegoogle2.weebly.com for an example.
I’d also have more time set for brainstorming. Students had less than a week to choose their topics. Perhaps this was a good thing—snap decisions that led students to their passions and interests outside of education. I do think the process of choosing whatever they wanted was overwhelming. Most of the feedback I got from the project was that it was terrifying at first but then ended up being very inspiring, engaging, and fun. I do think this speaks to education now—we often don’t have time to allow students to explore and “play” with learning experiences. We don’t give them the opportunity to fail.
4. The Google20time project teaches important 21st century literacy skills
The biggest benefit of the Google20time project (aside from the engagement factor) is that it allowed students to authentically experience technology and 21st century literacies. Blogging and sharing their project progress allowed them to nurture cross-cultural communications that are available to them on the Internet. Creating the TED talks got students involved in moviemaking, production, and multimedia. Technology is not the goal—it is the tool used to reach the goal. Ultimately, this is what 21st century literacy is all about.
Would I do this project again? Absolutely. I learned a lot about my own philosophies, my students, and technology skills through this project. In fact, I think it is important to embark on some learning journeys together with students, and this is a great way to do that.
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