Research Phase: Using Google Docs

Shawn Cornally at ThinkThankThunk advocates for a great departure from the standard classroom. I like his thoughts but sometimes question if I’m ready for the big leap. My class has become much more project /inquiry based though students move through the content in unison. I’m not sure how to fully open the door. The current Invention Convention project my students are working on hopes to tap into the interests of students. Project problems are selected and students are now in the research phase.

Computer time + students = black hole of productivity? Do you get the feeling that turning students loose in a computer lab can be a possible recipe for lost time? In the past, students logged onto computers and I did my best to bounce around the room checking in with individuals to discuss ideas. At times, I might reach a group only once during a class and if I was lucky twice. Who knows what the others were doing when I visited groups on the other side of the room. Yes, if the project is truly engaging students continue working without monitoring – that’s at least what I kept telling myself. But, and here’s the true catch, my students in grade 6 – 8 really are not sure how to keep moving along with research. Somewhere inside their minds they wonder what is a good site to visit – I know we’ve talked about this, but…, what information should I write down – everything written on this page is exactly what I want, aargh, this project is soooooo long.

Google Docs has helped tremendously. A student group shares one document among group members. Gone are issues surrounding lost files, incompatible formats…They also share the document with me.

Research Ideas - Google DriveAs students work, I monitor each group’s progress. Questions are asked, suggestions given and students know that I am there with them.

I can provide a comment and students can respond immediately or wait until they have the mental space to get back with me. Instead of putting a halt on their work to have a conversation about their progress, I can see what has been accomplished and encourage or nudge. Since my comments are embedded in the chat window or in the text, students can also keep referring instead of forgetting everything that was discussed the moment I walked away.

An interesting side effect is the sound generated during class. I remember having to excuse myself from group conversations to ask the rest of the class to lower voices to a reasonable level. Now, a productive hum permeates through the class as more students are on task.

There has been a lot of recent conversation on the twitterblogosphere about the role of technology. Technology is not curriculum. Technology is not the building block around which to construct a unit/lesson. Technology does allow for collaboration in different ways. Whiteboards are great but when the work becomes more text based, share a document! Using gDocs can help me see the process. What are students doing as they work? How are they using their time? Where are they getting stuck? I want to see more of how technology is allowing for better collaboration and feedback; not more lists of the 20+ apps I absolutely need to have to make a 21st Century classroom.

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5 thoughts on “Research Phase: Using Google Docs

  1. This is a great post. I agree with the collaboration aspect of gDocs. Students have told me they feel more efficient working on gDocs than on a single document being worked on by multiple students. Thanks for the advice using the chat to question and monitor their progress. I have just spent time wondering the class while they work. I will try it out tomorrow and see how it works. Cheers!

      • The 7th nd 8th graders both thought it was cool that I was interacting with them as they worked. I thought the overall participation was better and that the collaboration was very positive. Thank you for the great idea I am going to talk about the collaboration time in my meetings tomorrow. Is there opportunity to chat on google drive on the iPad app like on the desktop?

  2. Andrew – A few of my students had iPads today and we tried unsuccessfully to chat. They could see that I was in the document but the chat feature was not available. In addition, when I commented on a specific section of their work (highlight the text, right click, comment) they could not see the comment. If you find work-arounds, please let me know. Thanks!

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