The school board I work for currently uses Google Docs as a collaborative platform for students through what is called the Student Portal. Students log on either at school or at home and can work collaboratively with peers to complete a project. All students get a Gmail account in order to log on to the share site. A teacher in the district talks using Google Docs in the classroom in this YouTube video:
Will Richardson, in Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (2010)describes Google Docs as having "wiki-esque features in that you can invite anyone to edit and create the document or table, and you have a history of who has done what in terms of changes (p 69). He continues by saying that such platforms teach students about working with one another, about creating community and finally how to operate in a world where "the creation of knowledge and information is more and more becoming a group effort (p 69).
William Kist, in The Socially Networked Classroom: Teaching in the New Media Age (2010) explains that Google Docs allows storage of documents so that "colleagues and friends can collaborate . . . anywhere and at any time (p 36). It is this feature that appeals to the parents in our school. Many parents take vacations during the school year and if the teacher is using Google Docs, the student on vacation can access work, even with partners, anywhere there is an internet link (supposing the student takes a computer along on vacation).
Daniel Light states "activities that became the underpinnings of the successful
learning communities we studied were not “special projects” that the teachers assigned to their students every once in a while. They made using these tools a daily practice in their classrooms (p 11). Teachers in my school who use Google Docs on a regular basis find their students are highly successful and comfortable using this technology. Recently, students wrote letters to their parents describing their learning to a certain point. Students posted their letters and had other students give them feedback on their work. They went through the draft process sharing their work multiple times until they reached a finished product. Finally, they shared the work through the Share site with me, giving me the opportunity to offer feedback as well.
Finally, our school recently became a wireless environment so we are using a portable set of netbooks. Because the netbooks do not have a word processing program installed, it is necessary to use Google Docs. This is "an example of "cloud computing," whereby the cloud is the Internet; the user no longer needs to purchase expensive office software and install on their hard drive because everything is done "in the cloud"" (Berger and Trexler, 2010, p 111).
Our school staff is in the process of moving to using the Share site on Google Docs to share information that all staff needs access to. As well, our collaborative teams will eventually use this platform to create essential learning outcomes for curriculum and common assessments to complete both formative and summative assessments for these outcomes.
Here is a fun instructional YouTube video created by students for students:
As teachers take the risk to journey into the land of "the cloud," students will have the opportunity to work collaboratively. Working collaboratively will give all students a voice in the creative process. Students who need writing support could use a tool such as Word Q to complete the writing within Google Docs to contribute to the groupwork. Students with more difficulty writing could contribute images to the collaboration. Therefore, all students would be able to contribute using Google Docs.
Personally, I have yet to use the Google Docs with consistency. I have used Google Docs to create a survey that we posted on SchoolZone ( a platform to send parents information and reports on a regular basis), I have used information on the share site that represents work from my principal network and I have responded to student work. As our goal is to be completing our collaborative team work on Google Docs by the end of the year, I expect to become a more regular user. At this time, I am reading and learning so that I can support my teachers in their quest to become regular Google Docs users in the classroom. Only then will I feel more competent in this area. Lucky for me, there are several YouTube How-To videos to watch as well as instruction on our School Board share site, that is supported by our IT team.