Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How to...Google Docs

                 Most of us are well-accustomed to productivity apps such as Microsoft Word and the like. A word processor is one of the essentials of any person’s computer, and probably the most widely used productivity application in the world; but an evolution has recently begun to take place…

                When I was young, we would go to the local “Good Guys” or "CompUSA" (the predecessors to Best Buy)  and browse all the new software titles available. So many interesting programs existed, but we weren’t sure how good they really were, and they all had to be paid for. Then came Web 2.0, and all of that changed drastically.

                Now you can find tons of great productivity apps at the click of a button. Most are cloud based, so no downloads necessary, and best of all they are all virtually free.  Additionally many of the apps we have grown accustomed too, have been updated and now include new ways of utilization in the work field as well as the classroom.

                One such app, of which I am very fond because it was my first foray into Educational Technology, is Google Docs. Google docs are part of the Google drive suite. Anyone who has a Google account (i.e. Gmail) has a Google drive, which is a group of applications similar to Microsoft Office. Besides being cloud-based, what makes this product unique is the ability to collaborate within the system.

                Google Drive allows you to share whatever it is you are working on, (i.e. excel sheet, powerpoint, document, etc) and all edits are synced and updated in real time. For example, I am writing an essay, and I want to share it with a few colleagues for advice. Instead of emailing them the actual document I can share it with them, and they then can edit it online. I have the capability to choose the editing options they have when accessing the document (i.e. edit, comment or view only).We can even edit together at the same time, and our edits will come up as we type!

                I took this idea and put it into an educational framework. I uploaded a document to Google docs (for my Torah class, 5 Pesukim, and for my Talmud class, a Mishna). I then emailed everyone in the class with a link to the Document. The students are then informed to post comments and/or questions on the text. The only rule I implemented required students to post their own, unique question/comment. Since all the data inputted in the cloud automatically syncs, the students will immediately view their classmates posts. 

                As I mentioned, this was the first time I had ever used educational technology in the classroom. I expected a few comments, and some questions, but what I got was an immediate outpour of questions, comments, and opinions. I was thrilled to find students inquiring about minute details of the document. Everyone was required to collaborate and to sincerely think about his peer’s ideas. To my amazement, students were not only posting comments, they were answering their classmate’s questions and making remarks on what another student said. 
               It was great to see the kids really engaged outside of school. Besides having one of my most productive classes, the following day kids stopped me anytime I saw them in the hallways to ask questions about whatever it was I posted. I could see that my students were clearly impacted by the experience. The opportunity of “real time” communication that a Google doc provided motivated students and provoked immediate interest and engagement. 

                Now, as a Director, Google drive is the first application I tend to teach the beginner teacher in Educational Technology. It’s amazing to see teachers put it to good use. I have a science teacher who teaches using Powerpoint. She now uploads the slides, the night before, on Google drive, and has the students, as a homework assignment, make comments on what they see. By the next day, the students have an idea of what is about to be presented and the teacher can prepare based on what the students commented. (Flipped classroom?!)

                I’m sure there are many more great ways you can find to utilize Google Docs in the classroom. Please feel free to share in the comments section below!

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