Meet Google Tools
While there are many Web 2.0 pedagogical tools, I have found the most versatile to be Google Tools – tools that were not designed for education, but tools that have been refined right in step with how I use them in my classroom. While I use many Google Tools, let’s focus on the two I use most: Google Documents (more affectionately known as Google Docs) and Google Forms (a subset of Google Docs).
Overall, Google Tools allow anyone storage, email communication, and collaboration on the web. After setting up your Google account, you access Google Tools from any computer any time. While storage and email communication are tools many teachers use with their students, Google Tools’ collaboration is my most powerful reason for recommending Google in the English Studies classroom. And I do mean English Studies overall because these tools are equally valuable in all of the branches.
Before I go too far, let me bring readers new to Google on board. To use Google Tools, you set up a Gmail account. This is fast and free, and once you are inside your Gmail account, use the top toolbar to access Google Tools.
Google Docs in the Classroom
One of the first Google Tools created was Google Docs (tutorial). This tool has developed into a true powerhouse in the classroom – the main addition being synchronous editing. This means your students can write, revise, edit, and discuss the same document at the same time. Here are ways I use this collaboration:
Deepening reading preparation: I assign reading on a Google Doc. I require individual tasks that students record on the Google Doc leading into collaborative tasks with other members to help them summarize to ensure understanding then synthesize to deepen understanding. Here is an example of my students’ collaboratively preparing their reading of the Bhagavad-Gita.
Collaborative reading and analysis: I also use a Google Doc to read collaboratively in class. As we are reading, we complete either guided or spontaneous annotating using the commenting features. Readers therefore see others’ reading skills laid plain, and the group works to construct meaning. Here we collaboratively read Antigone.
Group writing: Finally, and possibly most simply, Google Docs are perfect for collaborative writing. My students compose scripts in groups. Each group starts a Google Doc, inviting the other members and me. They then compose together in and out of class, and I offer feedback at any time.
Google Forms: Feedback and Fun Incentive
One of the more recent Google Tools I have adopted is the Google Form (tutorial). These can be done anonymously, which I have found produces the most reflective responses. I use Google Forms for:
Feedback: At the end of a unit, I create a feedback Google Form. Here is one form along with feedback results. This kind of quick, anonymous feedback is essential for me to reflect on my planning and teaching.
Incentive: I also use a Google Form to spur students to engage with reading before they come to class. On this form, the questions are designed to show students what it means to engage with reading without a teacher’s direction. When reading is due, students start class with this survey. I project the percentage results immediately and give them the goal of the class getting 100% on each question. Then I reward them with brownies when they achieve 100% (they always do, even if it takes some longer to get this type of discussion rolling outside of class). This survey improves in-class discussions because of the increased preparation, while doing something I never knew how to do before: show students what it means to be a scholarly reader.
Why Not Something Else?
I have tried them all ... it seems anyway. While other tools can do similar things, I choose Google Tools over them all:
All in one place: This is critical for emphasizing with your students that these are not one-shot collaborations with little long-term consequence. All of the work is in one place, so the collaboration becomes an integral part of their new “notebook.”
Google is not just for school: This is also critical because students will see their own uses for these flexible tools, leading to greater buy-in for their use in the classroom.
Google is free: Don’t pay for something you can get for free.
A world full of help: While Google Tools are relatively simple, you also only have to Google (pun intended) the tool to find help. You will never be lost. You also probably can ask your students to help you because I bet one of your students has a Gmail and uses these tools already.
Don’t Just Trust Me
Back in 2006 when Google introduced these tools, they were already gathering praise: “In the short time that developers outside Google have been using GWT [Google Web Tools], it has garnered kudos for several of its technical hallmarks” (Goth 95). More recently, Google Apps for Education, a free bundled package for schools, is flourishing (Dessoff 62). Google Tools is now an education tool despite its broader beginnings: “Google also offers a Teacher Academy that gives 50 participants at a time hands on experience with Google’s products and other technologies in an intensive, and free, one-day program” (Dessoff 66). A search of Google Scholar comes up with 20,000 articles involving Google Docs and education. On the NCTE site, a search for Google Docs produces 46 articles exploring its use in the classroom. Join the fun!
Dessoff, Alan. "Google and Microsoft Go to School: The computing giants compete to provide powerful online applications to school districts--for free." District Administration 46.8 (2010): 61-66. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 9 Feb. 2011.
Goth, Greg. "The, Google Web Toolkit Shines a Light on Ajax Frameworks." IEEE Software 24.2 (2007): 94-98. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 9 Feb. 2011.