Welcome to another entry in our loosely-defined-yet-still-exciting teaching with technology series. This week: Teaching with GoogleDocs !
Our previous entries in this series include my posts on Teaching with Tablets , Teaching with Twitter , and Teaching with Blogs , Carleen Carey's Teaching Tools for the Tech Savvy TA , Ashley Wiersma's 3 Ways to Hack your Class with Google+ , and Andrea Zellner's I'm a Digital Grad in a Digital World .
One of the most important tools in my classroom pedagogy, regardless of the course I am teaching, is GoogleDocs . I am always looking for ways to encourage collaboration and group learning between my students, and GDocs is my favorite platform for creating that collaboration. This post will briefly explain GoogleDocs for the uninitiated and provide a few hacks for using this platform in your teaching.
What is GoogleDocs?
GoogleDocs  (a part of GoogleDrive) is a set of cloud-based collaborative softwares, including a word processor, an image editor, spreadsheet and presentation software, and survey platform. I use the word processor (or document) in my class most often. The doc looks similar to the Microsoft Word interface, but it has several exciting other features. The most important feature of GoogleDocs for my classroom practice is the way students can all collaborate on the same document in real time. GoogleDocs has a feature for commenting on the text, as well as a chat window on the left of the screen. Documents can be created from scratch right in your browser, or can be uploaded from your computer. Finally, all work in the document is auto-saved to the cloud, so you can go back to the same document as often as you want without worrying about losing your work! Check out some amazing tutorials here  and here  for more information on how GDocs works.
Why Should I Use GoogleDocs?
There are a number of reasons why GoogleDocs are a useful part of your classroom toolkit:
- GoogleDocs are easy to use. Although there are lots of interesting hidden features, you and your students can start using the platform immediately with almost no learning curve.
- GoogleDocs are free, and students can access files without having to sign up for anything (you do need an account to create a doc though)
- GoogleDocs support all kinds of collaborative learning and writing practices. I am a huge proponent of having students work together on writing activities, and GoogleDocs supports synchronous collaboration and lets students work together in real time.
- GoogleDocs are ideal for class projects: students can work together outside of class and easily share their work.
- GoogleDocs are great for posting schedules: students sign up for presentation dates or conferences via the Doc.
- GoogleDocs are great for grading work: you can share documents easily, and the commenting feature means that I can leave comments for students as I read
- Having everyone use GoogleDocs means that you don’t run into software compatibility concerns; everyone can open documents without a problem!
- Different security levels mean students can choose who they want to share their work with. Docs can make everything public, so that students can encounter real audiences, but they can also be private, so only the student can see their work.
- GoogleDocs can be shared beyond the classroom: other people in the field can comment on or contribute to Docs, expanding both the pool of knowledge and the audience for students. I also use Docs to allow students in different classes to effortlessly collaborate with each other.
Now that you have a sense of why GoogleDocs are useful in the classroom, here are some ideas for how you can incorporate them into your classroom:
- Use Docs when you Peer Workshop. Have each student upload their work and share it with the class. Students can easily comment on each other’s work, and the built in chat means that students can talk to each other while they comment. It’s great for having students peer workshop outside of class, but is helpful even when they are sitting together at the same desk!
- Before class, have students create a set of questions about the reading in a shared document. Use those questions to generate class discussion, or have students answer each other’s questions! This document will stay public, so students can refer to it as they prepare for exams or write essays.
- Create sign-up sheets for conferences and presentations in Docs.
- Use docs to create a set of helpful links, or a set of key terms. Docs can be added to easily, so this document can be evolving throughout the semester, as you and your students find more sites of interest. Start a doc on day one of the course and see where it ends up!
- Post some of your lecture slides or notes to Docs and invite students to take notes in the collaborative document. Students will have a collective and accessible record of the class by the end of the semester, which can be shared with future classes!
- Invite students to share materials with other sections of the same course, or students in different courses. What could students in a writing class learn from a biology class, for example?
- Have students post their thesis statements for group workshops: encourage students to comment on the statements, ask questions, and think through the ideas presented. Then, post the document on Twitter and solicit comments from your field. What do other people think?
- Use docs to create a huge annotated bibliography! Have each student contribute two or three sources, and by the time everyone has shared, the class will have a group document with dozens of annotated sources!
- Have students collaborate on group projects or essays in the doc. Students can all write at once in the body of the document, and can use the comment features or chat function to talk to each other and plan their ideas.
These are just some of the infinite number of ways you can include this platform into your teaching.
If you’re new to GoogleDocs, I have set up a sample doc here.  Go head and play around with the features: check out chat (the arrows on the right hand side of the screen), make comments, add links, and add your knowledge and questions to the document.
Do you use GoogleDocs in your class? What works for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!