Google Docs is an interesting tool that can be used in the classroom, even though it may not be its primary purpose. Basically, this application allows its users to create documents that they can share to other users. When sharing, the owner of the document can decide if the others can edit, can comment or can just view the document.
In an ESL classroom, Google Docs could be used to achieve written tasks. Sarah Brown Wessling, in this video, uses the application to foster collaborative group work. She would do so by giving a cooperative writing assignment to her students for which they have to use Google Docs. One student would then have to create a document and then share it with his/her team, as well as with the teacher. From that moment, every member of the team would be able to work in a single document, both in school and outside of school. Students can draft and edit their text as many times as they want, as long as it is before the deadline imposed by the teacher. In order to see if the students edited after the deadline, the teacher can go in ‘Files’ in the menu and choose ‘See revision history.’ With this device, the teacher can see all the changes that have been made in the document with the date and hour given. He/she can go back to the latest version of the text that existed before the deadline, and correct this version instead of the one edited after the deadline.
With Google Docs, there is also the possibility to give immediate feedbacks on the documents that are shared with you by using the ‘Insert comment’ button on the toolbar. In a cooperative work, students could comment on what their teammate have written in order to improve the text. The teacher can also leave comments on the content of the document and gives some clues to the students in order to let them know if they are in the good track. Feedbacks on content can also be given to students on individual works. For example, in one of my courses, we had to write a text and, when the first draft was done, we would receive feedback from the teacher and from at least another student. If the comment is quite long, it can also be given within the text in another font or colour so that it is easily distinguished from the text. This was quite helpful for the students receiving feedback as well as for the students giving feedback, because they could then compare their texts to the other students’ work and see where they could improve. Feedback on language can also be given, which would be quite useful for students because they could see where they have more difficulties in grammar and syntax. With this category of feedback, the teacher could also, to some extent, see which grammatical rules students know as well as where students need help.
There are plenty of advantages for the teacher to use Google Docs in a classroom, especially in a language classroom.
- As I said earlier, the teacher can see the revision history of the document;
- If it is a collaborative work, he/she can, to some extent, see which student did what with the revision history;
- The teacher can easily give feedbacks to the students;
- To some extent, have a measure of the grammatical knowledge of the students;
- It is a free application.
Teachers can be very creative with a tool like Google Docs. In The Best Top 10 Google Docs Tips for Teachers as They Go Back to School, Joshua Lockhart shared many interesting uses for Google Docs, such as sharing paperwork with parents and provide grade sheets for students. Teachers can experiment with this application, figure out what they like and dislike, and then incorporate what they want in their classroom.
However, there are some downsides about Google Docs. The most important one, as Susan Oxnevad said in her article, is that it can be hard for teachers to keep track of every document students share with them. To cope with this, teachers could ask their students to give specific names to their documents according to the assignment (e.g., AssignmentWeek1_YOURNAME where they would only have add their own name). This way, if the teacher chooses to classify the documents in an alphabetical order, all the documents for an assignment would be somewhat at the same place.