Google Docs For Centralized Classroom Documents

Since the advent of electronic documents, one of the problems with classroom management is document creep — the proliferation of hard-copy and e-copy documents that can overwhelm the student. With the best file management system, students can still be confused and overwhelmed, and eventually inured to too many documents. Blackboard’s file system doesn’t help much — it is still a system based on the old file-cabinet model, and adding documents there, then “showing” them to the students is cumbersome.

Here, we’ll overview a free service that will help you manage your course documents, create new documents easily, and share them with your students for easy access, without Blackboard. Google Documents (Google Docs, or GDocs) has multiple advantages and has become the standard for document sharing among students world-wide.

The Cloud — Not Quite the Blob

Google Docs operates in the “cloud” — delivery of a service instead of a product. The cloud operates “out there” — part of the Internet — everywhere and nowhere. As such, there is no software to download, such as with OpenOffice or Microsoft Office. The only ware needed is a browser such as Chrome or Firefox on your computer or on your smart phone. Documents are created, saved, and shared without having to download them, file them, or send them. Documents can be organized by “collections” and any document can be organized within multiple “collections” for cross-filing. You can create text, slide presentation, spreadsheet, drawing, and form documents. You can also upload any of these file types and more — you can upload image, audio, PDF, and even video files.

The immediate advantage of Google Docs is that any file or entire collections can be shared with your students. Say, for example, you create a collection “HIST 1301” and share that with your students. When you create a new file or upload a new PDF, for example, each student immediately has access to that entire collection and each document. If you want to be more selective with your sharing, you can share individual collections or documents with individuals or groups of individuals. You can also publish a collection or document to the entire World Wide Web so that everyone on the planet has access. Google will generate a URL for you.

Advantages
Beyond the immediate advantage of sharing to large audiences, the access to Google Docs is one of its first strengths over CMS platforms such as Blackboard. Students are browsing the Web all the time and access to a Google Doc is easy and very fast. Students do not need to go through a security portal and don’t need to navigate through multiple icons to find your work. Consider sharing your class slide presentation as a Google Doc — the student goes to the class collection and there it is — accessible at all times.

But more than this, since each document is “live,” you can edit your documents on the cuff, and the changes are shared immediately with everyone. This is a significant advantage over static documents that must be deleted, edited, uploaded, and “shown” every time you want to add something. So, you can present class notes for Week 1 in a single document, then when you add notes for Week 2, it’s the same document, just enlarged. You can even create an automatic table of contents for every document that shows your additions as they grow.

Finally, Google Docs permits commentary for text documents — a meta-narrative on your text. On the right margin your comments will enhance or clarify graphics or your notes and can even show a dialog between persons who are permitted to comment in the document.

Quicker, easier access, group sharing, and commentary — these are some of the initial advantages of using Google Docs in the cloud to share with your students.

Next week, we’ll discuss how you can go even further — using Google Docs as a collaborative tool to even further enhance student learning in and out of the classroom.

In the comments, please feel free to offer your experience, suggestions, and questions about using Google Docs in your classroom. We’ll respond in comments below, and in future posts.

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