Technology Lab 1: Google Docs

I’ve been using Google Docs for a few years now, and it’s been incredibly helpful this year with the conference planning I’ve been doing with other members of the CCR Grad Circle. To organize CARR 2012 (Conference on Activism, Rhetoric, and Research), we have used Google Docs to distribute and edit documents, create spreadsheets, and create forms.

  1. Distributing and editing documents. Our core committee uses Google Docs to distribute agendas for our meetings, which could then be used to take notes that everyone could see in real-time. We also use Google Docs to edit documents when we can’t meet face-to-face. Even if we are meeting in person, it comes in handy when a document requires feedback from the entire group because we can see exactly who is making changes or comments, and they are applied immediately, which saves someone the time and hassle of gathering all the comments and applying them individually.
  2. Creating spreadsheets. Planning a conference requires funding, and we have used the Google Docs spreadsheet function to record funding: who we’ve contacted and when, who has donated money and how much, and a running total of how much has been donated. Because updates are immediately available to everyone and there is only one copy, there are never any issues with people looking at outdated copies, and I can know immediately who has donated so I can then add them to our sponsors on the website.
  3. Creating forms. We decided to use Google Docs to create the registration form for the conference. Once people register and enter their information, Google Docs will take that information and enter it all into a spreadsheet for us.
Screen Shot of My Google Docs Page

Screen Shot of My Recently Used Google Docs

Google Docs has wider applications than conference planning, particularly in the classroom. I’ve had professors use it in classrooms to distribute activities: We all open the document and, in groups, fill out the information. Then it’s all projected on the board, and we can discuss the information as a larger group. At the end of last semester, Clay Spinuzzi wrote a pretty great blog post about the benefits of having students use Google Docs: 1) It’s online; 2) it’s private, so students don’t have to worry about other people seeing their work; and 3) it easily facilitates collaboration, which can be great for peer review. Spinuzzi also write about using Google Docs for grading, allowing students to see your comments in real-time. I’m not teaching this year, but but I often grade using Track Changes in Word. I think I’ll give Google Docs a try next time I teach, though.

In terms of Universal Design, I don’t know of any glaring issues with using Google Docs. Google has its own page dedicated to the accessibility of its products——which speaks specifically to how blind and low-vision users can use Google Docs. In terms of tech accessibility, Google Docs is pretty user-friendly, too. If nothing else, Google has a fair amount of support forums that can help you troubleshoot their services.

Typically, I’ve found that using technologies like Google Docs for student collaboration is really helpful for students who are uncomfortable speaking or engaging within the physical classroom. Using Google Docs for peer review and other collaborative projects could be really beneficial for a wide range of students: students who interact better online or in non-verbal media; students with LD, AS, or other social anxieties; students who just aren’t comfortable talking in class.

Still not sure about using it in the classroom? Check out these resources, which range from K-12 applications to higher ed purposes:

7 responses to “Technology Lab 1: Google Docs

  1. First, your blog is pretty. I barely got mine started, let alone putting such nice graphics in it. cudos!
    Thanks also for further clarification on Google Docs. I did not understand how the forms could be used but you explained it in practice. I also did not see the accessibility information (even though I looked for it!)

  2. I think I need some advice from you on how to create a blog. You clearly know what you’re doing! I’m impressed with all of the links and images and well, it’s just super accessible! Great links to using Google Docs as a teaching resource. Writing workshop is something that many students dread because it’s true, they are afraid of people judging their work to their face. Since this program is computer based and there’s not as much “human” interaction, maybe students would be more inclined to WANT to participate in it. You’ve definitely got me thinking about how I can use this in my classroom!

    • Thanks! I’ve had a blog for ~5 months now, so I’ve had a little time to practice. Using WordPress vs. Expressions (which is still powered by WordPress) gives you more options in terms of design & layout.

      Also, I have had a fair amount of success with students opening up a bit more with computer-mediated workshopping, at least initially when they’re all still nervous and don’t know each other. (It also eliminates the “my printer broke” excuse…) I’d definitely recommend trying it!

  3. Hi Allison-
    Thanks for your comprehensive post. I am also impressed with your blogging skills. I think I have a rudimentary understanding of Googledocs but I have no idea how to insert pictures into my blog (or change the format of my blog, etc…). Thank you for giving us a great sample to try to mimic for blogging.

    • Thanks! Expressions doesn’t allow you to change the format, even though it’s powered by WordPress, which is why I chose to register mine through WordPress itself. The formatting options for Expressions are definitely limited.

  4. Allison –
    Information sharing services, like Google Docs, can be very beneficial in sharing information sources for students, people planning things like conferences, and so forth. Do you think there is any instructional benefit from such a service?
    Andrew Bennett

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