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Google Docs Support Access and Collaboration

How might web-based word processing applications strengthen opportunities for student expression, collaboration, and writing? In the specific case of creating science fair projects, students and teachers can use web-based Google Docs to generate written work and collaborate. While the uses of web-based word processing applications described here relate to science fair projects specifically, the possibilities extend across all classrooms, projects, and purposes. Google Docs address two issues that often go hand-in-hand with technology in education: access and collaboration.

Household access to the Internet might be increasing nationwide, especially through mobile computing devices. However, a teacher might not assume that all families have access to expensive word processing applications. Furthermore, school districts may be hard-pressed to maintain the latest versions of computer hardware and software, which can result in a system of mismatched computers, operating systems, and software programs. Public libraries, which students may use to access the Internet, may or may not have software that match that found in nearby schools.

A web-based application like Google Docs allows an individual to create, edit, and save a word processing file on any computer with Internet access. Mac at school and PC at home? No problem. Want to edit a file on a smart phone? Edit away. Forgot to email your last draft from another computer? Herein lies the beauty of a web-based application: Google Docs automatically saves and stores files on an external server, which means there is no longer a need to email a file or worry about an older draft of your document. (Additionally, a program like Google Docs does save previous drafts that you can access and compare to newer versions. You have a virtual portfolio of drafts.) Students can access a file they created from any computer at any time, as long as Internet access is available.

Google Docs provides a number of opportunities for collaboration in the classroom. First, a student may create a written document, spreadsheet, presentation, or drawing and allow others to access the file to offer comments and feedback. A teacher, for instance, with access to the file (again from any computer connected to the Web) can view a student’s document, type in feedback, and offer questions. A teacher also can see student progress and ensure student accountability. These opportunities for feedback constitute the very purpose for which Google created the application in the first place. Google Docs provides a "comment" function that leaves side notes on a document for the creator to view.

Second, a teacher might use a Google Form, which is one type of Google Doc, and have students submit written answers, responses, or even parts of a project.

Example Form

The teacher-created Google Form is connected to a Google Spreadsheet that collects all of the individual student submissions. A teacher then has a spreadsheet of student responses to specific prompts that can be compared and considered as part of a class assignment.

Example Spreadsheet

For instance, during preparations for a science fair, a teacher might create a form requesting that students submit a testable question and the related variables. Once students submit their questions and variables, a teacher can then print out a class spreadsheet of questions and variables (with or without the name of the student who submitted the work). As part of a class assignment, students and teacher can review the different examples and offer feedback. These student-generated examples provide an excellent opportunity for peer review and collaboration.