Reflecting on the Google Teacher Academy experience – you MUST try to attend one!


Submitted by Fiona Beal

A Google Teacher Academy (GTA) is definitely something that every teacher interested in technology integration should strive to attend at some stage of their teaching career. I have just been privileged to attend one in New York and have come back somewhat exhilarated and enthused, and quite amazed at the enormous amount of learning that happened in that short whirlwind of time.


So what exactly is a Google Teacher Academy?  

Google holds these popular events consisting of two days of professional development  twice or so a year in different locations, and normally accepts 50 participants from the vast number of applications that are received. Sometimes the Academies are open to the whole world and sometimes they are limited to a particular country or region. An application consists of filling in a detailed online form and then making a one minute video about oneself based on one of the the titles that Google provides. Find out more about the GTA here. 


The Google Teacher Academy team

A great sense of community was fostered
The most exciting aspect was the sense of community that developed among the 50+ educators attending. It showed me that the best learning takes place when there is collaboration, sharing, and networking. There were quite a number of technology integration facilitators from around the USA and elsewhere, and it seemed, in my estimation, that they are mostly having an enormous amount of success with their methodologies. However a number of them shared informally the challenges that go with leading change revolving around technology integration.  Many of them have technology blogs which I am keen to delve into. There were also several media specialists at the Academy who are taking on a new role and making their libraries a vital part of the technology happenings in a school. 

This is our team, Team Diesel

So how did we prepare for the Academy?
Before the Academy we joined Google + which I hadn’t yet fully grasped, and we were placed in groups of six with a leader so that we could get to know each other via a Google hangout. This was an awesome experience and as a result I can see many uses for  Hangouts (a free video conferencing tool for ten people at a time) in education. We also wrote bios about ourselves so that we could read up about everyone before we started. And of course, there were the technology legends that we already knew about and followed on Twitter. So basically, by the time we started the Academy we had got to know 6 others plus legends and we had the potential of finding out about all the other attendees. The night before at the informal Google dinner at John’s Pizzararia in New York we had great fun putting names to faces. Funnily enough when I say names – we always introduced ourselves by our Twitter handles – shows the power and popularity of  Twitter!

Team Diesel on a pre-Academy hangout

The big day! 

On the first day we excitedly made our way to the massive Google building just opposite the Chelsea Market in NYC – all very eager to see what Google actually looked like inside, and not knowing what to expect from the day… 


Google is HUGE!

Of course, I don’t want to give too much of the two days away for the sake of future attendees, but they were action-packed, collaborative and great fun to say the least, and we were afforded the most amazing presentations from dynamic presenters. The exchange of ideas was incredible.As JR Ginex-Orinion (one of the attendees) said ‘The quality of educators and leaders in the room was at times intimidating, and yet unbelievably inspiring at the same time.”  I’ll be writing blogposts about some of the things I learned at this Academy in the days to follow. One of the things I really enjoyed was hearing from some of the designers of Google products, such as Google Drive etc. Another highlight was hearing from some of the Lead Learners as they are called (those leading the teams). One of them was Kern Kelly who shared his perspective and thoughts about allowing students to lead the process, take ownership of their learning and also help the teachers learn about technology. He brought along several of his students to share their experiences with the rest of us. 

Kern Kelly and some of his students

So the event continued till our brains boggled (and googled!)…but we didn’t want it all to end. It was too absorbing and captivating, too engaging…


Graduation time
At our ‘graduation’ we were presented with our Google Certified Teacher badges, and certificates. We were officially welcomed into the Google Certified Teachers’ Google group which now has about 750 educators in it. We were also tasked with developing a ‘Personal Action Plan’  outlining a project that we will complete in the days to come, with given deadlines. As far as I am aware I am, to date, only the second South African to have attended a Google Academy, the first being Ariellah Rosenberg from Ort (@Ariellah). I am hoping that statistic will change in the future. 

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Well, in order to keep this post at a reasonable length I will be writing a separate post outlining a few of the ideas that I walked away with from the rich sharing that took place at the Google Teacher Academy in New York, in October 2012.

Also read Gleanings from the Google Teacher Academy in New York.  

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