Google Docs

Google Docs

This page is all about the Google Docs and their use in teaching and learning in a High School Environment.

Google Docs for Collaboration (Part 1)

This is the first of a sequence of posts that I am going to make about how I am using Google Docs with my classes. We often hear about how wonderful web-based tools are for collaboration and learning in theory, but not so often in practice.

I am fairly new to Google Apps having been convinced by other 2008 eLearning Fellows to give it a try. I just looked at my oldest document and Gmail and they date back to Beginning September 2008 so 8 months experience is what I am giving.

First, I must say that I have become a huge fan of Google Apps, and Google Docs in particular. Here are a few examples of their use with my Year 11 History class:

The students all have their own Google Accounts (our school has a planned shift to Education Edition in the future). With the students quite new to Docs I started them off with a simple task of notes building, to help them become familiar with the environment.

TASK ONE: As the students worked through their online course I provided them with a brief set of notes published online (yes you can publish a document as a web page) which they could copy and paste into their own set of notes. These publish notes were formatted with Headers 1 and 2 – this is important as the students could create an easy table of contents using this formatting.

The requirements that they were given were simple: Go online and find relevant images to embed into their notes. They were studying “The Origins of World War II” topic. With the collaboration facility in Docs I got the students to share their notes document to me as a collaborator. This meant that I could monitor their progress and give them assistance, if needed, and feedback.

One of the students has published his final product. Follow this link to view.

The next History topic (just started) has led to an increase in collaboration between students and the difficulty level of the task.

TASK TWO: Students have now been placed in groups of three (in my view this is an ideal number for online tasks such as this – they can be help more to account by others in the group for their contribution, or lack of). The students were tasked with writing a new set of notes on the new topic which is “New Zealand’s post WW2 Search for Security”. They are given suggested headings and a theme for them to write their content – example here. Students have only just started on this topic/task – it will be interesting to see how they progress.

Google Docs for Collaboration (Part 2)

Once my Year 11 History class had become very familiar with Docs I was able to give them a group presentation task. I mentioned in my previous post that I had split them into groups of three for collaborative note-building. Well these groups were named after the New Zealand Prime Ministers after World War II (1945-85). I thought it would be a good idea that each group introduced their Prime Minister to the rest of the class as a 5 minute presentation. Of course this was to be done chronologically as we moved through the course.

The groups were simply instructed to create and share a Google Presentation (PowerPoint) with each other and myself (for presentation purposes). It was to be a simple 4-5 slide presentation. They had not been given any advice in how to use the Google Docs tool as they were at a stage where they could work this out for themselves. There were to be 9 presentations in all.

As we progressed through the course and the presentations we were able to discuss “what makes a good presentation”. Some of the students really picked up on this and went for good visual slides complemented by some brief notes which they read as the slides showed.

I felt that this was a good use of the Google Docs tool as it was done collaboratively by the students and completely out of class and it also complemented what we were doing in class. The students took the task seriously and really came to the party. Note: There was NO ASSESSMENT involved in this at all.

I have published their presentations. Here are the links to give you an idea of what they produced:

Peter Fraser
Sidney Holland
Walter Nash
Keith Holyoake
Jack Marshall
Norman Kirk
Wallace Rowling
Rob Muldoon
David Lange

Google Docs for Collaboration (Part 3)

Well here we are again looking at ways that Google Docs can be used to help improve teaching and learning. My History class students recently wrote an essay in Google Docs which they shared to me as a Collaborator.

I was able to write directly into their essays with feedback (in teacher red of course). I gave them the obvious grammar and spelling corrections along with tips on how to improve their essay structure and writing. I was also able to link them to a model writing plan and essay for this particular answer. This exercise allowed for direct feedback to the students on their written work which, according to a major international study this year, is the key ingredient to effective teaching.

But the collaboration allowed for in Google Docs did not end there. Earlier in the year I had the students create a personal assessment record document from this published template. They collaborated this back to me which I keep in an assessment folder in Google Docs. The students were tasked with reading the feedback I had given them in their online essays and to summarise this in their personal assessment records. Next time they write an essay they will first read what they need to do to improve on their last effort.

Here are some examples of what the students wrote in their summary for their first essay. Students are Year 11 (age 15-16) and the essay was about the reactions to the Treaty of Versailles in the Origins of World War Two Topic:

Student 1:[Merit “B” Grade] – Good structure. Introduction is very good. Sometimes irrelevant, so need to work on cutting down information until only the key points remain. Don’t write the essay like a story, focus on the why as much as the who, what and how. The conclusion was too brief and rushed the end of the essay. It needs to sum up every aspect of the essay, rather than a general overview. The key to getting Excellence is to refine the essay.

Student 2: [Achieved “C” Grade] – Writing style is fine but need to work on content and focus on all the parties involved. I need to stick to my plan and not lose my focus on the question. I also must not give my opinion directly.

Student 3: [Achieved “C” Grade] – In my detail and content i was (waffeling) and much of my content wasnt relavant to what my essay was about. I did this quite alot in my essay and i will have to make sure i dont do it in future. I also should not have used ‘I’ and ‘me’ in my essay because it isnt about my opinion. My spelling also needs some work i shouldnt be in such a rush while writing.

How many times do we hand back marked work where students look at the grade and no further? At least the students have a permanent record of their essay, teacher feedback, a link to model essay, their own summary of where to improve and their grade.

Google Docs for Collaboration (Part 4)

Here is another way that I have used Google Docs in the last few weeks.

Year 9 (13-14 Year Old) Research and Presentation – Ancient Rome

I decided recently that I have had enough of doing all of the work in preparing and teaching for me a new topic. I decided to get the students to do a 8-12 minute presentation to the class on a topic within Ancient Rome. They were to work in groups of 2 or 3 (their choice).

Choosing Groups and Topics – Google Form
First I listed a range of topics for the students to choose from or they could suggest their own. I gave them a link to a Google Form where they could put in their preferences for group members and topic preferences (3). This made it easy for me to collate & appoint topics to each. Here is a link to the Google Form the students filled out.

Planning & Research – Google (Document and Spreadsheet)
The students then worked in groups on developing Three Focus Questions for their topic. This was done in Moodle Forums to allow students to feedback to other groups. They then worked collaboratively on a Google Research Document which would become their presentation notes. I did the activity myself on the topic “Hadrian’s Wall” as I wanted to model to the students what was required. As I write some of the students have already presented while others are yet to. I used a Google Spreadsheet (collaborated to all students) to allow the students to choose time-slots for their presentations. This was another time-saver and worked really well as students raced to choose the best times.

Presentations – Google Presentation
The students, having done most of their research and planning, were now at the stage to develop their presentation slides to support their presentation notes. This of course was done in Google Presentation. Again, I modeled this for the students (link here) as I wanted them to see that the slides were visual (with no or limited writing) and used to support what was being presented (voice). This simple presentation technique is still overlooked by many presenters. Presentations with a combination of both a voice script and reading off slides have long been proven to be the least effective.

So far two groups have presented and the standard has been reasonably good and will no doubt get better as students evaluate those that went before them. I have three more in about 30 minutes time so got to go.

Fantastic Forms

At the start of this school year (February for those in the Northern Hemisphere) I started introducing Google Forms (surveys) with my own classes and also to other teachers. For those not aware, Google Forms are a function of Google Docs. They are very simple to create – simplicity of use being one of Google’s principles. Information from submitted forms feeds into a Google Spreadsheet and results can also be viewed in a nice graphical summary view.

Here is a list of some of the ways that I have used Forms with my classes and activity groups:

  • Group Preferences – My History class were placed in groups for one of the topics. They gave me confidential feedback as to who in the class they felt most comfortable working with.
  • Intro to the Course Questionnaire – used to gather student knowledge at the beginning of a course
  • Word Association tasks – used to gather a range of words students associate with a topic – This example is from my Year 9 History class for words associated with “Ancient Rome”. The words were then pasted into to make a word cloud.
  • End of Topic Surveys – Great for gathering information on what type of activities the students thought were the most useful or enjoyable and of course etc.
  • Gathering Contact List Details – I used this to create contact lists for parents of my care group (Form Class), for the Rugby Team that I coached and of course emailing lists for my classes
  • Online Application Forms – The Tech Crew students who I help organise applied for membership via a Google Form
  • Class Vote – My Web Design class voted anonymously for the best website produced as part of an assignment [I won’t give the link to this one as my students names are listed]
  • Team Vote – My Rugby Team voted anonymously for end of season prizes for Most Valuable Player, Most Consistent Player etc. [Again my players names are listed so I won’t link for privacy reasons]
  • Group Member and Topic Preferences – My Year 9 History Class informed me of who they were working with in their groups and their preferred topics for research projects.

Here are some of the ways that Forms have been used school wide:

  • Professional Development Feedback – I have run a range of Teacher Professional Development workshops on Moodle and Google Docs.
  • School Survey – Members of our school community (students, teachers, parents) were invited to complete a survey on the qualities that they thought were important in a Wellington College (our school) learner.
  • Teacher Workshop Choices – on our last Professional Development day Teachers completed an emailed form to choose between a range of workshops
  • Scholarship Practice Examination Slots – Our Deputy Principal gathered choices of slots for optional practice exams (to be held this week and next). Some of the subjects were held at the same time whereas others were the students choices when to sit. All of this information was gathered and collated from well over 100 students. The Deputy Principal said that it saved him at least 10 hours of collation and chasing up students.
  • Sports Day Entries – Our Head of Sports just today asked me to design a form for approximately 500 students to choose events to compete in along with their DOB, Age Groups etc for next February’s Sports Day
I have created Links to some of the forms above to give you an idea of how I have designed them. Please do NOT complete or any of them submit. It is worth noting that you can turn the forms on and off depending on whether you wish to accept responses or not.

Other features are:

  • A choice of themes to make the forms more visually attractive
  • The forms can be emailed as a link or added to web pages by embedding or linking
  • One great feature is that you can add additional information into new columns in the spreadsheet without affecting later entries into the form
  • All entries are time/date-stamped so that you know when the information was submitted
  • Already mentioned are the great summary tools which automatically create useful graphs for quick analysis
If you have not used Google Forms then do give them a go. They are VERY SIMPLE. Just create a Google Account if you haven’t already and start using them….You won’t look back. They have saved many hours of time for myself and a growing number of our Teaching, Administration and Management staff.