For quite some time I’ve used GoogleDrive to store my course materials. For me it is the easiest way to manage the many documents that I create during a semester, and the iterations of those documents as I update them each time I teach a class. To share these documents with my students I add them as hyperlinked content on Blackboard.

However, this semester I had two unanticipated experiences from using GoogleDocs, which seemed worth sharing with others who are using this tool in the classroom.

  1. I created a folder in GoogleDrive for each of my students to store content related to their end-of-semester research projects. For example, I created a document called “Sources” in that folder where the students were required to upload the online links (or images of book covers) for their research sources, prior to completing their writing. By having their sources all in GDocs, I was able to peruse and comment on each one, to either validate it as an appropriate source or to suggest alternatives when the source did not match the students’ research question or the parameters of the assignment. I was surprised, however, as I was navigating through these GDocs, to find that many of the students were logged into the Docs at the same time that I was leaving my comments. This allowed us to virtually “chat” through the comment stream about their sources, and was a surprisingly informal and helpful way to offer suggestions and corrections for the students. In the future I intend to experiment with holding virtual office hours via GoogleDocs, which seems an excellent way to be available for conversation with my students during times that they might not be on campus or I might not be near my office phone.
  2. I discovered about halfway through the semester that in one of my classes where I created and linked to the stored syllabus in GoogleDocs, that they students were “chatting” on the syllabus page during class about the course material that I was presenting in class. At first I was taken aback and uncomfortable with knowing this–were they not paying attention in class and instead chatting with each other virtually, becoming something like a class snapchat account? But then I realized that it was pretty ingenious of them to use this tool that I’d given them in a way that I’d not expected. In fact, one class session where I was at a conference and had scheduled a guest speaker for the class, I jumped into the syllabus document and chatted with the students while they were in class and I was at my conference hotel. I loved that I got to “check in” with them in the moment, virtually. Their candid responses to the speaker were also helpful to me–they said that they were learning a lot from him! This assuaged any guilt that I had for not being present that day and allowed me to feel better about what was occurring in my classroom.

These experiences have cemented my interest in using GDocs in the classroom. In both intended and unintended ways, they are excellent tools for student collaboration of all kinds.