Online Collaborative Editing
by Ashley Leyba, History
The university has adopted the Google Apps for Education, giving each student and instructor access to Google Docs via UC Berkeley’s bDrive. Google Apps is a web-based collection of applications that allows users to generate documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, and drawings. The bDrive Google Apps are all FERPA compliant, so you can use them in the classroom without violating policies regarding student privacy. This section will focus on using the document application in bDrive/Google Docs to collaboratively edit student writing, though it should be noted that bDrive/Google Docs can be used inside and outside of the classroom in a number of other ways.
For more information on Google Docs, see Using Google Drive on the Google website.
Research, Teaching, and Learning (RTL) also offers periodic workshops that explain how to use campus technologies. To find out which workshops are currently offered, go to the RTL Upcoming Events website.
Why and how did you use Google Docs?
I gave my students the option of sharing rough drafts of their final paper with me via Google Docs, which provided us the opportunity to collaboratively edit their writing online. Prior to using this tool, I avoided editing anything other than a hard copy of student papers, because I found the hassles of downloading their work (and hoping that my computer recognized whatever word processing software they used), making comments, and then uploading and emailing the work back to the student to be time-consuming and ineffective. By editing and working in the cloud, though, I was able to avoid these issues. Once a student shared a document with me, I was easily able to edit it (primarily by using the comment function) and, unlike previous methods of computer editing, the student was immediately able to see my suggestions and comments. Because this was a quick and easy way to work, the students and I were able to work through multiple revisions, something I had not been able to effectively do before using Google Docs. Additionally, I was able to set up times for both of us to log onto the doc, so that we could chat (using the embedded chat function) about their paper while simultaneously editing it.
How did you prepare to use Google Docs in your class?
Before deciding to experiment with Google Docs in my class, I was sure to familiarize myself with the technology (for example, I read through Google’s Sharing Basics page) and its varied uses. Since this was an optional exercise (students were able to turn in hard copies of their drafts for a more “traditional” editing experience), I did not do much to prepare my students in advance of the assignment. When I next teach, however, this will be the required means of submitting drafts. I anticipate that I will do a quick in-class demonstration of how to use the technology, focusing especially on the commenting tools.
How did using Google Docs benefit your students?
Using a cloud-based word processing program enabled my students to treat the editing process as a collaborative, ongoing exchange — students were able to easily pose questions and ask me for clarifications. And, at a completely practical level, my sometimes sloppy handwriting was not a factor in their being able to read my comments! When I talked with the students at the end of the semester about the use of Google Docs, I received overwhelmingly positive feedback. My sense is that they appreciated the dialogue we created around the editing process, plus they ended up writing much stronger papers (and, thus, receiving better grades) than they would have otherwise.
How did using Google Docs benefit you as a GSI?
Google Docs streamlined the editing process, making it both more efficient and more effective. I didn’t have to download anything to my own computer (no risk of viruses), and I really liked that there was no time lag in the process, since we could immediately view any changes, suggestions, or comments made. I found that the back-and-forth between myself and the students through the different stages of editing was very productive, and it allowed me to build a better rapport with them. Also, as a GSI in a writing-intensive discipline, I am always on the lookout for ways to improve student writing. Traditionally, this has meant working on thesis statements, explaining the importance of paper structure and organization, and teaching students how to evaluate source material. Editing collaboratively, though, allowed me to highlight other aspects of good writing. Through the continuous exchange of ideas while editing, my students came to appreciate that writing is a creative, dynamic process that requires time for reflection, multiple revisions, and outside input. This was an unexpected lesson, but one that I was very happy to have my students learn.
What advice would you give to other GSIs who are planning to use Google Docs?
Make sure you are comfortable with the technology before asking your students to use it! I would recommend going through a mock-editing process with either a friend or fellow GSI, just so you know what the process is like (this will allow you, for example, to see what a draft looks like when multiple people are working on it and to fine-tune your notification settings). Also, if you are working with a larger class, I would encourage you to think about setting limits on either how many revisions you will work on, or the length of time you’re willing to devote to the editing process. I was working with a handful of students, so I had the luxury of being able to go through several drafts with each of them; this might not have been feasible with a larger group.