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.
- 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.
- 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are immediately available to everyone and there is only one copy, there are never any issues with people looking at outdated copies, and I can know immediately who has donated so I can then add them to our sponsors on the website.
- 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.
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—http://www.google.com/accessibility/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:
- “20 Google Doc Templates for Use in Science and Math Classrooms”—Don’t know much about teaching math or science, but this looks like a decent list of applications for K-12 instructors.
- “Using Google Docs Forms to Run a Peer-Review Writing Workshop”—Profhacker is a blog that I frequent, and they post great articles about teaching with technology.
- “Google Docs in Teaching”—This wiki covers potential applications, student examples, and research articles.