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Foster Student Collaboration with Google Docs

24 Jul 2014 by Heather Breedlove

In the past, student collaboration and teamwork required teachers to dedicate large chunks of class time for students to research and work together. Students struggled to find a time that worked for all group members. Most of the time, one student would do most or all of the work because trying to get everyone together or on the same page proved to be too much of a hassle. The challenges of group work discouraged both students and teachers.

Collaboration Today

Today, students are working around the room; some in desks, others on the floor. Each has a laptop in their hand, fingers nimbly typing away. The room is quiet, except for the clicking of keys. In fact, one might think they are working individually but in reality the students are collaborating on a persuasive writing assignment. This is what modern day collaboration looks and sounds like.

Students are working together through various tools available online. One of the best collaborative tools is Google Apps. Students are able to create documents, presentations, spreadsheets, forms and drawings and share them with others. Collaboration in the cloud overcomes the need for students to be in the same place at the same time.

Get started: Google Docs Collaboration

To get students started with collaborating online, model the process with the entire class. Create a document that everyone will be able to add something to — like a simple introduction activity where they type their name, favorite color and insert a picture of their favorite animal. When sharing with a group of students for the first time, create a table and label it for everyone to type their responses. Students love seeing everyone on the same document and get an idea of how large-scale collaboration works.

Teaching Digital Citizenship: Commenting and Chatting

Introduce commenting naturally, by making comments on their entries. Encourage students to try it out. A note of caution: make sure students know the difference between a comment and a text they would send their friend. They usually have to be taught how to offer good, constructive criticisms that help make the document or project better.

If chatting is enabled for your district, show students the differences between commenting and chat. Chat is a conversation that runs alongside the document. Comments are specific to parts of the document. Comments can be replied to others and are saved on the document. Chat is not saved within the document; however, a record is sent to all mail.

Setting Up: Student Activity

Groups of three to four work most effectively. One student becomes the ‘creator’ and the other students are the ‘receivers.’ The ‘creator’ is the team leader. They will create and name the document, then share it with their group members.

Helpful Tip

Depending on the nature of the assignment, you may want the team leader to insert a table so people can type in their information. Later, they can make the table invisible. This works best if students are working on an essay or inserting different types of media, like photos or videos. As students get used to working together on the same document, this step can be eliminated.

Turning In Work: Digital Turn-In Box

Think about how you want the students to “turn” in the document to you. Do you want them to share it with you? If they are commenting and chatting, sharing with you is a must so you can monitor student interaction. This is the simplest option, but if you continue to use Google Docs with your students, they may start to overwhelm your Google Drive.

You can set up a folder and file them afterwards, but that can be time consuming. One efficient option is to create a shared folder for students. Students can move the document into the shared folder.

Another option is to create a Google Form. Students fill out their name. They can select the subject or academic hour and assignment name from a drop down menu. They share their assignment to ‘anyone with the link (within the domain)’ copy the link and paste it into the form. You get a spreadsheet that is searchable by student name, subject/academic hour and assignment name.

Continue The Conversation

The great thing about collaboration in Google Docs is that the conversation continues in real time. You can comment on students’ work and they can make edits without having to share it with you again. Students can continue to work on their assignment together, even from home. No more group work assignment that someone leaves at home; no more lost papers — just students learning and working together in a collaborative classroom.

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