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GoogleDocs and Collaboration in the Classroom

Last month, I taught a course on professional writing. (I know, right? I’m having a very decadent summer, thank you very much.)

The students’ final assignment was to collaborate in small groups on a business proposal in which they were to identify, analyze, and then propose a solution for a problem of their own choosing. Ideally a local–upstate South Carolina–and current problem.

Most written assignments in college are written by a single author. In a work environment, by contrast, collaboratively-authored documents are much more common. And two of the worst parts of collaboration are the difficulty of getting all of the collaborators together for a meeting (something I’ve written about before) and coordinating who has the most authoritative version of a collaboratively-authored document (something Jason has written about before). There are online solutions to both of these problems.

After making the above points in a very brief lecture that included examples of various kinds of collaborative workplace writing, I assigned the following ProfHacker posts as reading:

  • Writers’ Bootcamp: Writing Collaboratively,” by Billie Hara: We all know how difficult writing can be if we are working by ourselves. However, if we work together, perhaps the work isn’t quite as difficult.
  • Getting Your Work Done With Social Media: the Sprint,” by Jason B. Jones: Social medial tools like Facebook and Twitter can help get you through your to-do list, instead of distracting you from it. Here’s a simple strategy for breaking out of procrastination.
  • Online Tools For Collaboration,” by George H. Williams: Collaborating with others on large and ongoing projects can be tricky, but it’s much easier if you use a few online tools wisely.
  • E-mail Is Not a Tool for Revision,” by Jason B. Jones: Using an online writing environment–such as GoogleDocs or a wiki–makes collaboration easier and side steps the problems that can arise when several authors are e-mailing each other different drafts of the same document
  • A Simple Hack for Productive Collaborative Authorship,” by George H. Williams: If you and your collaborators need to make significant progress on a document in a short period of time, here’s one way to do it.
  • Use GoogleDocs for Crowd-Sourced Notes,” by George H. Williams: When several different people are taking notes about the same topic, using a shared online document is an effective way to keep track of all of the different contributions.
  • Google’s Cloud Connect Links Microsoft Office and GoogleDocs Together,” by Cory Bohon: This new, Windows-only plug-in from Google Docs allows you to share, back up, and edit simultaneously with others who are also using the plug-in with Office or who are using Google Docs in the cloud.

I decided to strongly suggest that the students use GoogleDocs (about which we’ve written a great deal here at ProfHacker) as the writing and editing tool for their proposals. The result? Everyone (myself included) was very happy.

The students reported that they found the GoogleDocs environment very easy to use and very helpful. I provide them with a sort of template for the document they were to create, and they just filled in the various sections. (Keep in mind, though, that “just filled in” doesn’t capture the significant work the students did in researching the problems they were addressing and crafting the documents responding to those problems.) All in all, a success.

[As always, you should be mindful of the stability and security of the cloud when using online services like this.]

How about you? Have you tried GoogleDocs in the classroom for collaboratively-authored projects? If so, how did it go? Let’s hear from you in the comments!

[Creative Commons-licensed flickr photo by Christopher Schmidt]

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