Smart Ways to Use Google Docs for Better Online Group Learning
Advancements in online collaboration are rapidly changing the way in which we learn, and Google is pioneering the field with Google Docs. The development team continually adds new features and enhancements to the free online productivity suite, similar to Microsoft Office, which now includes applications for creating and editing text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms. Students and teachers are leading the parade of enthusiastic users, finding innovative ways to enhance education using Google Docs.
Whether they are sharing a presentation for class, tracking the progress of a group project, brainstorming ideas, or giving / receiving assistance with homework, Google Docs allows students and teachers to:
- Store, share, and work together on files using their computer or smart phone from any location. All it takes is Internet access and a free Google account
- Upload files from a desktop and share them by sending email invites to collaborators
- Choose whether collaborators can just view or freely edit files
- View and edit Microsoft Office files regardless of what version of the software they may have on their PCs
- Create Microsoft Office-compatible files even if they don’t have the software on their own computers
- Open and edit Google Docs with Microsoft Office software on their computers
- See changes made real-time, character-by-character, while others type in a document, spreadsheet or presentation
- Group chat to discuss projects or participate in presentations
- Revert to automatically-saved previous versions of documents and spreadsheets; look through revision history
- Organize files with shared folders, including Google Chrome bookmarks
- Choose from thousands of templates created by the larger user community including project timelines, to-do lists, monthly calendars, surveys / feedback forms, presentation designs, and contact lists
- Publish files on project websites created with Google Sites
- Search files for words or phrases
- Convert PDF files to images and text
- Deliver files that are too large for email
- Prevent loss of work by storing files online, and by automatic saving within Google Docs applications
- Save backup copies of files for safekeeping
Google Docs applications include:
- Documents – A free word processing program with margins, tables, charts, comments, footnotes, etc. Recent enhancements include the ability to see others highlight text, to quickly type equations using LaTeX shortcuts, and to translate a document into 53 different languages
- Spreadsheets – Use Spreadsheets to track budgets, run financial calculations, manage data, write complex formulas, and apply conditional formatting
- Presentations – Create presentations online, adding text, video and images directly into slides, and share presentations on the Web like movies by embedding into a website or watching within Google Docs. Use chat to address the speaker or the rest of the viewers.
- Drawings – Diagram processes, create flow charts, or document structures with this facilitated drawing program. Draw freehand together for quick ideas or sketches, and then insert them into documents, spreadsheets or presentations, or publish them on Web pages.
- Forms – Quickly create an HTML survey form for collecting information, choosing from 60+ themes and 7+ types of questions. View records in a spreadsheet that is automatically updated. Generate sophisticated graphs and charts and plug them into presentations, documents or sites.
Other Google Apps, such as Google Sites and Google Calendar expand the capabilities of Google Docs for students and teachers. In addition, the Google Apps Marketplace has hundreds of compatible, useful programs.
Working together through sharing files and applications like Google Docs allows students to:
- Contribute individually or meet virtually in their own time frame, 24/7, without worrying about transportation or coordinating schedules
- Develop a wiki resource center for a group, project, class, or department in which research results can be shared
- Assign tasks, set deadline dates, and track progress
- Save paper and money by obtaining course materials electronically
- Avoid losing work and keep off-site backups for safekeeping
- Conduct surveys, ask for reviews, or get feedback about a project, class, or student group
- Use mobile editing to update a project status or work on homework virtually anywhere, anytime
- Get feedback from professors without having to sit outside the door at office hours
- Have their level of participation and contributed content more fairly evaluated by professors and fellow group members who can look through revisions
- See more accountability in group projects because of the visibility of each other’s work to themselves and their teacher
Check out the Google Docs demo.
Ellen Berry, a member of the BrainTrack writing staff, writes about a variety of topics pertaining to college students.