Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Using GoogleDocs for "Unobtrusive Collaboration"

I came across a blog post last week from Tom Barrett in the UK ("Unobtrusive Collaboration in GoogleDocs"), which mentioned a great use for GoogleDocs when kids are writing: commenting and giving feedback while they are constructing drafts.

Commenting on drafts is nothing new in terms of the writing process, of course, but most teachers I work with who teach writing collect hard copy versions of a draft, make comments, have kids re-submit (via hard copy), make more comments, etc. This is not a bad approach, by any means. It can be, however, inefficient for both the teacher & the student.
cc photo courtesy of Found Drama

How many of us who teach English have gotten a draft, only to see that the student got off track very early on and has to redo most of the paper? For me, that has happened often. What Tom points out in his post is that if students are using GoogleDocs and the document is shared with the teacher, the teacher can actually check on the progress of each draft as the students are crafting it, real-time.

I tested this out with a teacher who was doing a research paper this week, and it was very successful. To begin, we had each student create his/her draft in GDocs and share that with the teacher (this could also be shared with other students for peer-editing). Then, as the students were in the lab, the teacher was clicking on various drafts to see the progress of each student. She made comments as the kids were working, even "encouraging" one student to get back on task as he had hardly written a thing.

She loved it, and the kids had the benefit of feedback at different stages of the draft. One more benefit: because the teacher could check the revision history, there was no need to print out & hand it anything. Everything was assessed electronically.

One tip if you want to try this out: use the footnote feature instead of the "insert comment" feature in GDocs. The "insert comment" feature is great for asynchronous feedback as it won't overwrite what the student might be typing. The footnote feature puts the comment in the right margin, which won't interfere with the student as s/he is working.