Author:  Thomas Hermanson M.S.Ed
High School Biology Instructor
Twitter:  @therms33  |  Web:  |  Email:  thermanson                                                                                                   

Collaboration is a powerful and authentic instructional method to engage, improve, and direct student learning.  Google Docs is built into Google Apps for Education and enables collaborative activities and projects that can occur inside or outside of the instructional day.  Students can collaborate more efficiently on projects using web-based word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs.  By learning how to use the tools available through Google Docs, your classroom can become more productive, more engaging, and more effective.  Google Docs is a free, web based set of document creation tools that allows multiple users to contribute, edit, and interact together.  Documents, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, drawings, and collections (folders) can be created and shared by multiple users at once.  Documents can also be downloaded, worked on offline, and then re-uploaded to your account.  Each of these tools can be used in the classroom to accomplish a different set of objectives.  This tutorial will give you an introduction to the common collaborative features of Google Docs.  Future tutorials will go more in-depth into each type of document.  The power of Google Docs comes from the ability to share, edit, and work together in one virtual workspace.       

Why Use Google Docs?

Google Docs in Plain English - Collaboration

Before beginning this tutorial, you should have a Google Apps for Education account and be familiar with the basic layout of Google apps such as documents, presentation, spreadsheets, and forms.  Check out the Institute in a Box titled: Google Docs Basics or view this simple introduction to get you started.

    The Collaborative Google Docs Classroom

    Common Collaborative Elements

    Sharing a Document and Sharing Settings
    Create a google document and share it among multiple people by using either the "Share" button in the top right of the document screen, or using the File menu  --> Share...  Here you can add individuals as collaborators and indicate their privileges as viewers or editors.  Hovering over the "Share" button allows you to quickly see how many individuals have access to the document.  In the "Add people:" field, you are able to add collaborators using their name (if they are in your Google Mail contacts) email address, or group.  The privilege options are: editor, commenter, and viewer.  Be sure to have students add you as an editor to all documents on which you plan to assess and add comments.  Set privileges by using the drop down menu next to the individuals or groups you have added.  This is done in bulk initially, but can always be changed for any individual at anytime using the drop down menu next to each collaborator.  Individuals can be removed by clicking on the X next to their name.  Tips: When setting privileges for large numbers of individuals or groups in bulk, add all editors then add all viewers.  Because once privileges are determined, any changes are made on an individual basis and can become tedious with large groups.  I also use groups in my Google Mail Contacts to speed the process.  This can be done under Add people: by using the link "Choose from contacts."  Be aware that anyone with edit privileges can change permissions and add people as collaborators.  

    Visibility Options
    You can also change the visibility options of a document within the sharing settings.  By default, documents are private and only people you add as described above can access them.  This setting may be appropriate during the document creation time, but if you want to invite a larger audience, you may want to change the visibility options for your document.  Click on the "Change..." link in the "who has access section.  This will allow you to designate your document as visible to the public aka anyone on the web (the document will also come up in search results), only those with the link, only those in your domain, or only those in your domain with the link.  There are links at the bottom of this window to learn more about these visibility options.  Pick the appropriate setting for your document by clicking save.  When back in the sharing settings, notice that there is a link at the top of this window that you can copy and paste to share with any collaborators of your document.  This link can also be published on a Google Site, within another document, or within an email.  Keep in mind that the link only works for those with permission as set within the visibility options section of the sharing settings.     

    Real-time Collaboration
    When typing, you will see the document constantly updated with all users changes.  You will be able to see other viewers' cursors indicated with a different color.  If you move your mouse over each cursor, the name of the viewer will pop up.  Changes will appear in real-time.  

    Viewers List
    There is a viewer list and chat window on the far right hand column of all Google Docs.  To open the chat window, click on the grey triangle located before the number of viewers and their individual colors.  Here you will see a history of messages shared among document viewers.  Add a message at the bottom of this column where it says "Type here to chat".  Your message appears in the message history along with all other viewers'.  Students can use this area to communicate as they are collaborating on the document.  Be aware that information in this chat window is not saved along with the document and will disappear when you close the document.  Text can be copied and pasted from the chat window into the Google Doc to include it in the current version of the document.

    Revision History
    Collaboration and work progress can be assessed with the revision history tool.  Select File --> See Revision History from the Google Docs menu.  This opens a window on the right side of the document that displays all revisions that occurred on the document since it was created.  Contributions appear in different colors based on individuals when the default "show changes" is checked.  One can also show more or less detailed revisions by selection these options at the bottom of the window.  Tip:  You can roll back a document to any point within the revision history. 

    Email collaborators
    Under the File menu, there is a command that allows you to email all the collaborators of a document.  This may be useful to draw attention to collaborators about a version of the document or to share thoughts when others are not currently editing the document.    

    Publish to the Web
    By selecting File --> Publish to the web... a web view only copy can be linked or embedded into a Google Doc, Site, or shared on social networks.  By default, changes will be automatically published (can be unchecked in this window) to the web.  You are able to require login with your domain to view, but overall, the visibility options are not changed by publishing it to the web.  Learn more about this by clicking on the link.  The published document can be accessed by a link given, or you can embed it within a Google Site with the embed code present here.  Finally, clicking on Google+, Gmail, Twitter, or Facebook will allow you to share the link to the published document.      

    Document commenting is a powerful feature that allows asynchronous collaboration.  There are two types of comments; document level and in-line comments.  Document level comments are added and accessed from the button at the top right corner of all documents except a spreadsheets and forms.  Clicking on the comments button will show all document level comments.  There is a link in the comments window that allows you to customize the notification settings of document level comments.  To create an in-line comment, select a section of text, image, spreadsheet cell, or drawing element and select insert --> comment.  This will begin a string of comments that can be edited, viewed by collaborators, and marked as resolved when necessary.  Email notifications can also be set for in-text comments to alert collaborators.  

    Types of Google Docs for use in the collaborative classroom

        Document - text based 
        Presentation - linear slide presentation that enables collaboration and insertion of multimedia
        Spreadsheet - collaborative spreadsheet for data sharing, calculation, and graphing 
        Form - a web form that can be sent to students to gather information and create a spreadsheet from student responses (also see how to use in the student response systems workshop)
        Drawing - a collaborative canvas that students can use to sketch ideas, and combine elements of text, images, and other multimedia.
        Collection - functions like a shared folder where students can access shared documents and be given either view or edit access

    Uploading existing content
    Managing Collections
    Share a collection (folder) with specific access permissions to groups of individuals.

    Hands on Activities:

    1. Create a document that you want to share with a group of students.  For this example, we are going to create a collaborative review sheet that could be shared among students in a section getting prepared for an assessment.    
    2. For an example, use this review doc and make a copy.  Use the share link to invite collaborators to your document.
    3. Try out the commenting feature, chat window, publishing and embedding into a web page from the instructions above. 

    Reflection Questions:

    How is collaboration in the cloud using Google Apps more useful or less useful than collaboration in a face to face environment?
    What existing activities do you currently use can be improved or extended using the collaboration features in Google Docs?

    Additional Readings/Resources.

    Collaborative Assessment using Google Docs
    To further your knowledge:
    Date created | Relevant Institutes | NHEON Admin Email | NHEON Site