Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Google Docs Test with Students

I've been using Google Docs since September 2007. I find it invaluable for distance work with other teachers. Whether it is creating a script for the Monsters Bloom in Our Wiki K12 Online Conference or collaborating with Tom Barrett and his cohort of teachers around the globe on various presentations, Google Docs rock!

Weekend Preparations
I've wanted to use Google Docs with students for over a year, but the logistics kept holding me back. I have not wanted to create a bunch of email ids in Google and I'm not sure if the gmail trick works with Google Docs. I am especially intrigued by the possibility of Google Apps for Education, but have to figure out how to get a large quantity of school email addresses. I'm not sure if it's even an option.

In the meanwhile, I do host a website at www.mrsoro.com and it gives me the ability to create up to ten email ids. This past July, I signed up for a Google Apps account with my mrsoro.com email id. It was easy to do, but I never took the time to use the account any further.

I've also been setting up a few gmail accounts here and there to give students access to Google Reader while working on the Middle School 1001 Flat Tales project. When all was said and done, I had enough accounts for everyone to work.

The Plan for the Class
I wanted to introduce the concept of Google Docs and collaborative editing. All the students have experience editing a wiki. I started a discussion with the students. We talked about:
  • how they would describe a wiki to someone who hadn't heard of them before
  • how they would describe Microsoft Word
  • how they could work on the same document with a school partner from home
  • the limitations and problems associated with sending a document as an email attachment
The students did a great job explaining that a wiki is an editable web page. They felt they would send the document as an email attachment. The problems included the possibility of sending a virus through the attachment, not having a personal email id and needing the help of a parent, and multiple versions of the same document.

We viewed Commoncraft's Google Docs in Plain English. Afterward, I handed out a sheet to each student with the user name and password for their session on the computer. The students navigated to the document by following a link from the school's delicious account.

The Student's Reaction
Overall, it was a bit overwhelming having between eleven and eighteen students answering the same twelve questions at the same time. They got a bit frustrated having work overwritten at times. The questions were related to the tablet pcs we have on the second floor this year. I asked them to talk about the types of projects they did this year, what caused trouble as they worked on the tablets, how Open Office Impress and Writer worked as compared to Microsoft Office, projects they'd like to do in their subject classes next year (with the tablets), and things they would like to learn in computer class next year.

The last question asked about their experience using Google Docs today. The responses were more positive than negative and included:

I thought it was pretty cool...great...fun and easy...fun, easy, and awesome...it was fun...it was cool...it's like instant messaging your friends what you are editing...I like it. It's fun because you can see other people's thoughts...I liked it. I had fun working on it...It was good. I didn't have a problem with it...it was fine...it was easy...it was funnnnn and easy...it was very easy, honestly, not that fun...it was confusing so I changed my color...I didn't like it...people kept deleting stuff and changing it...it was ok.

For the Future
I will definitely use Google Docs next year. I will not have such a massive, simultaneous edit, though. I can especially see using the spreadsheet in class. It will be a time saver in populating a spreadsheet with a lot of individual data. I used to question the students around the room and each student would type each answer into the spreadsheet. Now I can set up all the names and titles in the spreadsheet and the students can fill in their individual row or column. Afterward, the students can save the file as an Excel document on their local drive. We will be able to open it and then they can manipulate the files individually.

I will certainly use the Google presentation with the eighth grade. I have had the students create a Time Travel agency PowerPoint in groups, but it leave a lot of students sitting while one student does the bulk of the work. This year, I had each student create their own Time Travel PowerPoint, but the number of slides and research really took longer than I wanted when the students worked alone.

The overall experience was good. I now have concrete experience with the students that I can build on over the summer as I prepare for the 2009-2010 school year.


  1. Great reflections. I'm piloting Google Docs at my school next year. Wish us luck!

  2. Good luck Barb. I've been using it with the teachers to schedule the tablet PCs. This was my first experience with students. I'm looking forward to finding more uses with the students next year.

  3. Once again I enjoyed reading about your experiences with Google Docs. I got around the multiple email problem by setting up Google Apps for our school domain and having the students use bogus email accounts with the school domain. Since I'm the webmaster for the school anything not sent to specific email addresses bounces to me so I got all the emails.

    Here's what we did with Google Docs this year: 8th Grade wrote podcast scripts, 7th Grade collaborated on an Introductory Letter for the Human Genetics project, multiple grades used forms for quizzes or surveys, 6th & 7th Grade shared a spreadsheet to keep track of keyboarding speed during our 12 class keyboarding session. I didn't do anything with presentations this year.

    The only issues I had were some students just treating it like IM and some work being wiped out by others but both of those were short-lived things as they students learned to work with Google Docs.

  4. Isn't there an age requirement to use Google Docs? CIPA says 13 y.o. What to do then when the highest level of grade in our school is 8th grade?

  5. Lauriene:
    Google Apps for Education is for K12. I think this is the solution for any school. I am going to set my students up in this manner. All you need is a domain name with your school. As I get it set up, I can let you know more.