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Let me get this out of the way, I am a Google Apps fangirl. I have gone so far as to try to get my school district to adopt Google Apps for Education. Now why would a good girl like me convert to Google worship?
It all began by listening to Wes Fryer’s Moving at the Speed of Creativity podcasts. He started describing the benefits of using Google Docs and Google Notebook. The ease of collaboration between students and teachers struck me as something I needed to get my students to do.
It’s times like this that my ADHD asserts itself and takes over the impulse control center of my brain so, I jumped right into the deep end without looking.
I grabbed a computer lab and quickly discovered that each student needed email addresses to access Google Accounts. I went ahead and registered my students for Gmail accounts soon maxing out on the number of Gmail addresses I could add from home. Fortunately, I was able to get enough addresses for both first and second trimester.
I began by having my students write their essays in MS Word and than importing the finished document into Google Docs. This proved to be too cumbersome, but they were able to correctly use MLA formatting. I quickly dumped this plan and moved right into having the students compose right in Google Docs. This works so much better. I can now watch each student write in real time, and I can make engage in synchronous editing/commenting.
When they begin a new writing assignment, I have them open an new document, name it, and then share the blank document with me immediately. I then open each student’s document in a separate browser tab. This way I can monitor their progress and offer timely advice and assistance. I am finding that this has really improved their writing and on task behavior. Blogger Tom Barrett (a teacher from Great Britian) calls this unobtrusive collaboration.
Grading became my next challenge. I didn’t want to have to print each draft of a document to comment. Once again my Twitter network came through. Someone pointed me to Tom Barrett’s Blog post about marking assignments. This gave me a few ideas. I expanded on this by creating and attaching the grading rubric to the bottom of each work. Now I can grade and comment on each I am including a link to an image of an example of a marked up essay. I am considering moving all commenting to the footer with the rubric. I think that will make it easier for the student to read.
I am still working on better implementing Google Docs, but as far as I’m concerned, I am going to require all written work to be done and turned in to me using Google Docs. A few general comments about using Google Docs below.
I will blog more about Google Notebook and other Google Apps as I integrate them into my classes.
Other Benefits of using Google Docs:
- Students can access their assignments from any computer with internet access. Previously, if they began an essay at school, it was saved on the school server and could not be accessed at home. Now students really can complete and submit work whenever they can.
- No more lost papers. Every couple of minutes Google Docs automatically saves all work, a crash doesn’t mean having to redo work. Also, a student cannot claim to have turned something in to me and accuse me of losing it. The work is either on the server or its not. End of discussion.
- Being able to monitor their progress in real time has helped to increase on task behavior. If I don’t notice any progress, I can pull op the revision history and actually show the student how much time he has wasted.
- The revision history is great. It can provide actual time on task data for parents. This way I have concrete data to show them about how much time their student is using or wasting.
Deficiencies noticed when using Google Docs:
- Daily access to computers is a necessity. After having being unable to find a lab for daily use, I borrowed 10 laptops for the last month of the first trimester. Laptops greatly improved implementation. Tech Support reclaimed the laptops after Thanksgiving, but the school opened up a couple of other labs so I have access to a lab just about everyday.
- Formatting essays is biggest deficiency that I have found in Google Docs, but it can be over come by exporting the finished document into MS Word/Open Office and doing the final formatting in MS Word/Open Office before printing. I only print a completed final copy this way when it is a major paper or if it is need for their portfolio. (Update: I have since figured out how to have the students permanently set double spacing and font size. This has solved some of the formatting issues
- The undo keystroke – ctrl-Z – doesn’t work well. Because Google Docs saves continuously, “undo” only works if a mistake is noticed immediately.