I mentioned on Twitter that I use Google Docs in my classroom, and someone asked me to write a short blog post about it. So here it is.
We're blessed at UT because at the CWRL we have several computer-assisted classrooms and the freedom to use these with various types of software. Last year, in the spirit of exploration, I had students write and submit papers using Google Docs, the web-based office suite. Google Docs allowed me to avoid the usual stack of papers as well as the email ping-pong that occurs when students email drafts to me. It also was easy to use -- basically it has the same level of capability as Microsoft Works -- so the learning curve was relatively shallow.
But I was more interested in the collaboration aspects. GDocs allows you to share your document with others, meaning that many collaborators can look at the same document and even edit it at the same time. It automatically allows features that you have to turn on in Word, such as edit tracking and comments. Paired with a project management system such as Basecamp, GDocs was a great way to support the dreaded group project. That's how I used it the first semester.
An added bonus was that I could embed my own comments in the document. That meant that I could review drafts and even insert grading comments directly into the text. (UT does not allow me to post grades on an off-campus server, so the grades are handled through UT's own gradebook application.) So I began to think about using GDocs for all assignments, not just the group project.
Last spring, I decided not to require GDocs. Instead, students turned in papers. It was a nightmare: versions floated around, it was hard to track which version was which, I had to wait until classtime to hand back comments. These are all common and unremarkable issues, but once I knew there was a better way, they seemed intolerable.
So this semester, I required all students to turn in all assignments on GDocs. I simply assign labels to them to differentiate the different classes and assignments (and I have one red label "_TO_GRADE" to track what I haven't touched yet). So far it's working well.
An added bonus is that I was able to lead students through peer reviewing via GDocs. Students inserted comments in each others' papers. When I reviewed the drafts later, I commented on these comments as well. It worked quite well.
I don't believe I've used GDocs to its maximum extent, but it's worked very well so far.
Questions? Drop a comment or drop me a line.