Friday, December 3, 2010

Google Docs Rocks

Google Docs allows you to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations online. These files can be created from scratch, created from an online template, or you can upload existing files in their native format. The idea is simple: rather than emailing files back and forth to numerous people, have those people edit the SAME document online. Everyone stays on the same page and can see edits made by their peers. It's genius! Their Google Docs in Plain English YouTube video explains this more clearly.

The main selling point to why someone would use Google Docs compared with Microsoft Office is its collaboration features. As the owner of a document, you can choose how to "share" it. There are three options by default:
  1. Public on the web: Anyone can search for and find the document (no sign-in required)
  2. Anyone with the link: You can share the link to a document on a website or with a certain group of people via email or chat (no sign-in required)
  3. Private: Only people explicitly granted permission can view the document (sign-in required)
Once you have decided who you want to view this doc, you then decide who has editing capabilities. Say you share a spreadsheet with ten people, you may only want two of them to be able to edit whereas the rest can view only. There is also an option where you can allow anyone to edit (no sign-in required). I have yet to find a purpose for this though.

Most of my teaching documents are public to some extent, but I only allow other science or team teachers to edit my docs. The exceptions would be personal docs or teaching-related docs that include private information such as test material or student grades.

The other great thing about storing these documents in the "cloud" is that they can never be accidentally lost. Say goodbye to the days of students forgetting their flash drives, leaving a report at home, printer running out of ink, etc. They can either share their documents with the teacher or at the very least access them at school via the Internet.

Over the course of the one year that I have been using Google Docs (I currently have 100 documents stored in their cloud), the improvements have been solid and often. I feel they really do pay attention to customer feedback and are dedicated to making this service stronger. The embedded video below shows some of these improvements.

Ideas for using Google Docs:

Use Google Documents to plan our team meeting agendas and write up our parent newsletters. Teachers on our team would add agenda items and class updates ahead of time so our meetings were more productive. We would then copy and paste the parent updates into an email which the ELA teacher would then zip off to all of the team parents. We would use the same file each time and change it to reflect what was new. This year, I plan on making different docs each time, and then having a link on our team website to the newsletter archives for parents.

Communicate with non-English speaking parents. Google announced just last week that all Google Docs can now be translated into one of 53 different languages! 

Make Google Document lessons public and viewable for students. This includes handouts, homework assignments, and all Google Presentations. I uploaded all of my PowerPoint presentations and while they may not convert perfectly (especially if you have animations or transitions) it is very helpful for students to use for reviewing for a test.  

Have students share assignments with you and other students. I only utilized this during my science fair project. Students shared a document with their partners and a few shared their ongoing lab report with me so I could give ongoing feedback. I do know that Mr. Pizzuto (ELA teacher) collaborated more with students due to the larger number of long term writing assignments he assigned.

Use Google Spreadsheets for my student grade book. While their Spreadsheets cannot do everything that Excel can, it's getting close. The pros far outweigh the cons. I have instant access to all of my students' grades from any computer without having to worry about losing my paper grade book or Excel grades should my laptop crash. For this school year, I also plan on creating a spreadsheet for my plan book. Students will have

Use Google Forms to create surveys for students and parents. This ranged from getting parent feedback on our student-led conferences to finding out a good date for our team hike.
These can also be used to make short little quizzes for students. I also used it as my beginning of the year "getting to know you" survey for students. It gave us a lot of great information we were able to revisit throughout the year. Regardless of how its used, you can access a "summary of responses" to get instant feedback. This event creates an appropriate graph depending on the format of your question. See an example below.

Resources for using Google Docs 

Lots of great videos from the Google Apps team

Final Thoughts: 

I have found myself using Google Docs more and more over the last year. However, I am not ready to totally quit using Microsoft Office either. As great as it is, Google Docs still does not quite have the formatting capabilities of its software counterpart. The good news is that if I have a document, or even a pdf file, I can upload it to my Google Docs withoutreformatting them. This lets me share the doc and keeps it looking exactly as you want it, but this also means you will not be able to edit it online. 

As I said in my earlier post, I feel that in another year or two of updates and improvements, I will be ready to fully adopt this as my editing suite. I am confident it will be just as good if not better than anything else on the market. Let's just hope it stays free!

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