I remember “back in the day” when I would do an assignment – be it an essay, math worksheet, science lab, etc. – and if I wanted to have someone proofread it for me, I had to physically give it to them. Or if we were doing a group assignment, we’d have to all copy down the exact same information (or pay for photocopies) so that we’d have the same thing to work with.
Then things got a little bit easier with more people having access to computers. We could email the information to each other. Then we were able to save it to the cloud, email the link to someone, have them open it on their end, edit it, save it, and then send it back.
I’m not even being sarcastic. I’ve LOVED seeing the evolution of how technology has allowed us to streamline processes in education and make the impossible possible. Sure, it can also be a crutch and a vehicle for cheating, online bullying, and distractions. But more often than not, I think the benefits outweigh the risks.
Especially when a powerful tool like Google Docs changes the narrative and makes collaborating with people in your group, across the room, across the school, and across the world possible.
It wasn’t always so easy
I’ve been a fan of Google Docs for some time now, although migrating to it has been slow. When my district went to a 1:1 iPad model about 6 years ago, my workflow consisted of administering Dropbox links of PDF files to students via JupiterEd and then having them open those files in Notability.
This is actually how the majority of the teachers at my site gave access to classwork, although they may have used some other cloud service or uploaded files to JupiterEd. We also had a few teachers with their own websites and post their work there.
When we started out, the few times that I’d used Google Docs to have students collaborate had been messy. Having students share the doc with their group members took forever (there were so many iterations of sweetwaterschools.net, which was the end of their school email address), they would initially write gibberish and capriciously delete everyone’s work, and there was no capability to add tables or images. It was also just glitchy overall on the iPad, which sucked up valuable class time.
While I loved the collaborative nature of it, I put it off to the side until Google improved its app for iOS so that I wouldn’t have to spend the majority of class period troubleshooting it.
They FINALLY delivered.
It took some time, but Google definitely upped their game for iOS and made it user-friendly. We were able to take advantage of a more seamless process when my district also enabled Google Apps for Education, which made sharing of documents much easier.
When they made the initial changes, I decided to take the plunge again and have my students use it for group work. If it didn’t work as I’d hoped, then I could easily use Notability as a contingency plan. It seemed worth the risk if it meant having an app that allowed true synchronous collaboration!
The test run
I tested this out with a group essay.
- I created a practice Performance Task for them, complete with visuals, data, articles, constructed response questions, and a writing prompt.
- The students read, annotated, and answered the constructed response questions on their own.
- They wrote the outline and selected the evidence as a group.
- Finally, they composed the essay together in a shared Google Doc.
What it’s like when students are collaborating in Google Docs
If you haven’t had students share a Google Doc with each other, or if you haven’t had a chance to try it out yourself, you’re in for a treat! The students find that it’s a mixture of fun and frustrating, although it certainly takes some compromise and teamwork to accomplish the task!
Sure, someone could just sit and do nothing while watching everyone else do the work. However, it’s easy to monitor this by looking at the Version history, which will indicate when and exactly what each student contributed.
Google Classroom changed my life
In the beginning, one of the key elements that I insisted upon was having each group share their Google Doc with me. I learned about this from Alice Keeler via Twitter. This would allow me to watch them work in real-time so that I could give them immediate feedback.
It was a tedious process since it involved receiving an email notification for 180+ students…for every assignment.
Enter Google Classroom.
Not only does Google Classroom allow me to disseminate assignments, polls, messages, announcements, and much more, it allows me to:
- Create an assignment
- Share it with each student
- Create an individual copy of the assignment for each student that is then automatically shared with me!
It then creates a folder with each class’ assignments and copies of student work.
Why does this matter?
- I no longer have to have students share a copy of their work with me so that I can monitor it.
- This allows me to see if a student did work during my class, during another teacher’s class (bad idea), at home, or 10 minutes before class started the next day.
- Monitoring them during the process and catching them before they make too many mistakes or veer off course is easy.
- I can also monitor group participation.
- If a student deletes everything, it’s easy to help them recover their work.
This works for more than just Google Docs
Did you know that this works with Google Slides AND Google Sheets? I’ve actually had students collaborate on all three with amazing results!
I had my students review various presentation apps on their iPads. They had to figure out criteria, experiment with the apps, collect data, etc. With their conclusions and that of the class, the culminating product was individual blog posts in which they reflected on the process.
Here are the posts outlining the process:
Try it out!
If you’ve been hemming and hawing about using this, I URGE you to test out its prowess and see it in action!