Collaborative Writing with Google Docs

Last month, Teresa America and Annie Wayland, social studies teachers at West High, tried something a bit different with their digital story project.  They have been frustrated by the typical downfalls of a digital group project: lack of accountability, off-task behavior, and lost files.  This year, we tried it a bit differently, adding Google Docs to the mix.

Google Docs is an online office suite, offered free to anyone once they have set up a Google Account. Every document (or presentation, or spreadsheet, or survey) created in Google Docs lives online, accessible from any computer, and can be shared with multiple people.  Every document is saved automatically, protecting students’ work from inevitable, unexpected computer shut-downs.  The sharing features give us the collaborative opportunities we employed in this project. Check out the video below for more info.

Telling a story, with accountability

For this project, students are given specific questions about a historical dictator that they must answer through internet, library database, and traditional research. Typically, students work independent of one another during this portion of the assignment. With Google Docs, however, each student has a portion of one Google Document where they place their information, and all can contribute at the same time.

In a lab, this translates to everyone contributing at the same time, keeping the entire class engaged and accountable for research. Every document creates a record of who has contributed to the document, detailing when they accessed it and how long they worked on it.  

An example of a revision history:

At any time during the writing, the teacher can pull up students’ work on her laptop and check in on the group’s progress.  She can leave notes on the document to help students refocus or correct misconceptions.

An example of leaving notes for clarification:

Peer Editing

Collaborative writing is more than just accountability. Because every document lives online, students can share their work with others. Pam Hausfather, communication arts teacher and director of the MOSAICS Academy, uses Google Docs to develop her students’ peer editing skills. Instead of only the teacher, students can review one another’s work and leave comments for one another directly on the document. With the new discussion-style commenting that Google recently included in its documents, reviewers and creators can dialog about the proposed changes at times that are convenient for each.

Curriculum Writing

And one last idea comes from Corrie Meyer, math teacher at West High. She writes,

“On our Algebra 1 Curriculum writing day …, we used Google Docs to type things up and it was fantastic! It meant that we all didn’t have to focus on the Smartboard. As long as we had our own computer, we could break off into groups and work together there. We ran into some formatting issues with bullets, but the cool thing is that, because we could all work on it at the same time, we fixed it really quickly. Four of us were working together on it at the same time and it was fine! Plus then it was really easy to share with everyone else. Like Amy said in her post, no thumb drives, no saving to folders. Easy!”

Want to know more?

Collaborative writing works for both teachers and students, and is just the tip of the iceberg.  Google Docs is a easy tool for collaborating on a number of tasks, including documents, spreadsheets, presentations and drawings.  For more comments from teachers, visit a recent discussion among the West High Instructional Tech Leaders committee.  If you’d like to check some of these out, feel free to visit our development website.  Or sign up for Bill Bass’ summer course Online Collaboration for the Classroom with Google!

If you’d like a handout to use with kids, click the picture below for the one we used to set up students with accounts (using Mailcatch) and introduce them to Google Docs.


This entry was posted in Comm Arts, General, Google Docs, Math, Social Studies and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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