google docs are a great teaching tool

It’s the end of a long, brutal semester for me. I’m due for another teaching with technology post (see others here). This time I’m blogging about how wonderful and versatile google docs is for classroom teaching.

I started to use google docs two years ago when a student put together a shared google spreadsheet for a multiobjective decision analysis project that we were performing as a class. It was a fantastic way to collaborate.

It’s worth noting that there are several ways to share a document in google docs: you can share the document with certain users, anyone with the link can see the document, or google can search and find your document. You can allow view access or modify access. You can give ownership to someone else. Therefore, you can be protection or open with google docs. As I said, it’s versatile.

I have found many ways to use google docs when teaching.

  1. I created simple class calendars that are easy to update and change (see one here). I ended up changing the schedule quite a bit during the semester this semester, and it only took a minute to change the official class schedule on google.
  2. I created a spreadsheet for my multiobjective decision analysis class project. Our project was to select the best restaurant for celebrating the end of the semester. We all participated in collecting and anayzing the data, and a common spreadsheet eliminated emailing of the “hot copy.” It was superior to DropBox in that we could modify the same document at the same time. If someone else modifies the spreadsheet, it shows up as new in my document list (its name is boldfaced), so I didn’t have to spend time figuring out if anything in it had changed since the last time I looked at it.
  3. My stochastic processes grader and I came up with homework assignments together via google document. He would propose homework assignments, and I would modify the assignments according to what I covered in class. Then I posted the assignment to BlackBoard as usual.
  4. My grader wrote homework solutions in google documents. It became easy to share the solutions with students.
  5. I wrote exams with google docs so that my grader could offer feedback at his leisure.

I use BlackBoard to host all of my course materials. I have a love-hate relationship with BlackBoard. It provides many course materials, including a course calendar. But BlackBoard is cumbersome to use–I could spend all day in BlackBoard updating course materials. Google docs saves time.

I should note that at my university, student emails are run by google, so it’s extra easy to use google tools with students. I would imagine that all students have gmail accounts, but it might be hard to collect emails if you want to only share your docs with your students.

I’ve used google docs for other professional tasks. Recently, I set up a colleague’s visit with google docs. I shared the link with my colleagues here at VCU and gave them view access only. They were able to see the available times in the schedule and sign up for a meeting. They could always see the most recent version of the schedule, saving me the time of emailing to and from everyone. Then I emailed the link to my colleague.

My department ran faculty searches via google docs. It was an efficient way to keep track of the ~200 people who applied to the open positions and to manage campus visits.

The INFORMS IT committee used google docs extensively. It was the most impressive use of google docs I have ever seen. We wrote and edited reports. We went over them in meetings. We compared document histories.You can view how to find document histories in the image below.

Here are two things you might not know.

1. You can leave comments in a google doc. With multiple users, this can become a conversation.

2. You can chat in a doc in real-time. My grader and I would often do this before class as I was going over what I would assign to students.

You can view histories in google docs.

I’m looking forward to doing even more with google docs, such as writing collaborative proposals and replacing documents I would normally upload in BlackBoard.

How have you used google docs in (or out of) the classroom?

5 responses to “google docs are a great teaching tool

  • prubin73

    I used to use Tomboy for keeping notes of various sorts, with the data directory on Dropbox so that I could access notes from multiple places. Now I use G Docs. I don’t need a client program on PCs (I do use an app on my Android tablet), and the editing features are a bit richer. I haven’t had to share my notes with anyone yet, but if I need to, it’s easier with G Docs.

    As an aside, I saw a poster session by a faculty member here at Michigan State who uses Google Voice for teaching. I think what he does is call himself, at his G Voice number, and dictate notes, which G Voice apparently transcribes into a text file that he cleans up and distributes. Haven’t tried it myself, since (a) my area doesn’t have G Voice service yet and (b) I’d be dictating LaTeX, which is a fairly scary thought.

  • meagangracie

    I love everything that it’s capable of! Unfortunately, due to some security issues it’s one of the few apps that are completely blocked on (my current) DoD network.

  • Reygun

    Try google docs in google plus. the houngouts is very nice tool.!!!!


    Use google docs beta table now called google drive. You can make pictures and coordinates tables a great tool for the VRP. Additional public is totally

    I leave an example of Table Beta (Fusion Tables):
    Tutorials :

  • Reygun

    Try google docs in google plus. the houngouts is very nice tool.!!!! Video Call + Google Docs + a Coffee really google docs is very usefull


    Use google docs beta table now called google drive. You can make pictures and coordinates tables a great tool for the VRP. Additional public is totally

    I leave an example of Table Beta (Fusion Tables):
    Tutorials :

  • A Markdown Syllabus | Stigler Diet

    […] McLay just posted about using Google Docs in teaching. A Google Doc shared with the whole class might be an even easier way to maintain a syllabus. […]

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