Thursday, September 18, 2008

Google Docs in the classroom

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.


Bill said...

I'm using Gdocs in my class as well this semester, for many of the same reasons you mention in the post. I try to give some credit in the Professional Writing courses I teach for writing review - it's one of the more important learning goals I have for the Intro to Professional Writing Course, in fact. Trouble is, grading their writing and grading their review processes in traditional formats is pretty tough.

But Gdocs history helps a great deal. I can see what advice a writer took and which they ignored, etc. I often find myself saying "you should really listen to your peer reviewer..."

As a bonus, our campus just recently completed some sort of deal with Google, so we have an MSU branded version now that interacts with my regular account, but I can also filter via the walled garden too.

GHW said...

Just a quick note: thanks for sharing your process and reasoning. I will, more than likely, try to incorporate something like this into my teaching. The paper-based classroom makes less and less sense to me.

cbd said...

We revised our graduate curriculum last year; up to the point we started filling out forms, all the work was done on Google Docs. I can't imagine what it would have been like to do that with email attachments. I'm working on a project now where the boss doesn't want us to use Google Docs because of privacy concerns (hrm); I'll have to ask Bill H-D about his version.

This summer, I worked with three graduate students who attend classes at our regional center. Without prompting, they shared their essays with each other and added comments and feedback. That's a great tool, though I wish it printed better. I had to hack out custom CSS to keep the comments differentiated when printed.

I have noticed export from GD isn't transparent; OpenOffice bailed when I exported a file to it. It worked the second time, though the formatting wasn't as clean as I like.