Google Docs: A Must in Any 21st Century Paperless Classroom
by Dani Kennis, Educator and Technology Coach
Picture this: It’s Friday afternoon and you are leaving school. The birds are chirping, the sun is beating down on you, and all is seemingly perfect – Except for the gigantic stack of essays and projects that you are carrying in your arms. While entirely eliminating the task of grading isn’t an option, simplifying your workflow is — Google Docs to the rescue! Google Docs is a word processing tool (with many other capabilities) that makes grading, creating, collaborating and giving feedback efficient, quick and easy for both teachers and students. Below are my top five reasons why Google Docs is a must in any 21st century paperless classroom.
- Free & device agnostic. This one is a no brainer. What teacher doesn’t love a productivity tool that has no cost associated with it? Google Apps for Education (GAFE) comes at no cost to students and teachers. Plus, the Google Drive suite (which includes Google Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides & Classroom) can be accessed from a Chromebook, Mac, PC, iPad, Android, etc. This makes it incredibly easy to use Docs and other Google tools for schools and students that have BYOD policies or a variety of different devices.
- Cloud based. Google Docs is a web based tool that automatically saves work to the cloud – A huge win in the life of a teacher with 44 minute class periods. Saving to the cloud eliminates the need for flash drives or multiple email exchanges with various attachments. Plus, for all of us busy educators that complete work on the go, Google users have the capability to access files whenever and wherever they need with Google’s ‘work offline’ option.
- Collaboration – Whether students are creating a set of collaborative group class notes, brainstorming, or working on a group paper or project, Google Docs allows multiple people to share and work on the same Doc simultaneously. Collaborators can check revision history and revert back to previous versions of a Doc easily if necessary. This can be useful when teachers are looking for which parts of an assignment were contributed by a specific student. Additionally, collaborators no longer have to be in the same physical space to work together, meaning teachers can now give students more authentic opportunities to create for and connect with the world beyond the four walls of their classroom.
After the Paris attacks earlier this year my students collaborated with students from Canada, Europe, and other US states on a Google Doc in which they wrote letters of condolences for the victims of the attacks. Providing students with these genuine learning opportunities gives them a strong and confident voice as well as provides an authentic audience to produce for. In my experiences, this leads to increased engagement, motivation and empowerment as students create and collaborate on valuable work that exists for not only a local classroom, but a global community.
4. Feedback. This is my absolute favorite feature in Google Docs and the one that I find to be most powerful. In promoting student growth and improvement it is imperative that to provide ongoing feedback during the writing process, not just when the work is finished. Google Docs provides options for commenting, editing and suggesting, making it easy for both students and teachers to give feedback for one another in real time without changing the original work. It allows teachers to gain insight into student understanding and misunderstanding. Moreover, teachers can elevate the power of Google Docs by ‘app smashing’ (combining the use of multiple apps) and integrating it with Google Classroom to foster an automated, paperless workflow that simplifies the distribution, collection, and grading of online work.
5. Add Ons & Hidden Gems. Adds Ons are additional functionalities and tools that enhance the user experience in the Google Drive suite. Some of my personal favorites are Draftback, Kaizena, JoeZoo Express and TextHelp Read & Write. Google Docs also offers hidden gems, such as the research tool which allows you to conduct research right in a Google Doc without needing to switch between tabs or windows. My personal favorite (and a favorite of many of my students’) is the voice typing feature which allows students to speak directly into a device’s microphone and Google transcribes the words into text.
While the benefits of using Google Docs outweigh the challenges, those that are new and ready to dive in should keep a few things in mind. There is a learning curve associated with transitioning to Google Docs from Microsoft products. Google Docs and the Google Drive suite both look and ‘feel’ different from other products. Additionally, students might need to be explicitly taught about the function of various icons on the toolbar. Finally, and most important in my opinion, students should be taught shortcuts in Google Docs and on their keyboard. Teaching skills like copying, pasting, commenting and viewing revision history in just a few quick keystrokes leverages the power of Google Docs and saves important classroom time.
Google Docs makes transitioning to a paperless classroom nearly effortless. It helps to create a seamless flow between creating and grading work. Ditch those paper copies and dive into Google Docs today!
Dani is a high school Special Education Social Studies teacher and Technology Coach in the New York suburbs. She is also a Level 2 Google Certified Trainer and co-founder of The Education Calendar, a crowdsourced map and calendar of education events worldwide. Her blended classroom incorporates the use of Google Apps for Education as well as other Web 2.0 tools in order to prepare her students to be successful 21st century learners in a global community. She blogs about her work and teaching at DaniKennis.com and would love to connect on Twitter.