Google has tools available that can create powerful impact in teaching, service, and scholarship. Google Docs, one of these tools, is a cloud-based productivity suite that can replace desktop software, such as Microsoft Office, in certain instances. The purpose of the present article is to review and describe Google Docs and its applications in education.
Imagine a situation in which you have been called away from your computer (or your computer has stopped cooperating) and you need access to a document or presentation. All of the documents stored on that computer are immediately unavailable to you. What now? Foremost, we have come to know and use computers over the last decades in one way: documents and applications that run locally, and so exist on a single computer. Working in the cloud mitigates this problem.
Working in the cloud enables you to work with your documents everywhere you are, could be, and want to be (with an Internet connection). Your documents no longer live and die with your personal computer, but instead live on Google’s secured servers. This is what it means to work with your documents in the cloud.
The cloud also solves another common document nightmare. Numerous copies of the same document are made when they are attached in emails, loaded to flash drives, burned to CDs, etc.; these copies ruin your workflow, waste time, and lead to mistakes. A common situation in which you send a document to a collaborator while you are still working on the document leads to two out-of-sync documents. Imagine a committee of 10 working disparately on the same document. Synchronizing copies of documents takes time, and is imprecise, frustrating work.
Google and the cloud solve this problem by allowing simultaneous editing, manipulation, and creation of documents. You and your collaborators can work on the same document and (quite literally) watch the other’s edits, chat synchronously using a ‘chat box,’ and never worry about documents falling out-of-sync. In this cloud model there is only one copy of the document, shared amongst those who need to edit it, synchronized and ready for real-time collaboration.
The Google Docs platform supports editing and collaboration in the following common formats: documents (word), spreadsheets, and presentations. The interface is similar to those of desktop applications and should take little time to acclimate to. The only truly unique difference is that we work in a web browser (Mozilla Firefox is the preferred browser at Adelphi University), and not a native desktop application launched from a shortcut.
Google Spreadsheets and Forms
Google Spreadsheets and Forms are perhaps this author’s favorite tool in the Google Doc suite. The fully functioning spreadsheet application is constantly evolving —and everything that is there works well. Charts, tables, formatting, and complex formulas are all there. The greatest part of Google Docs spreadsheets is not just the basic spreadsheet (which can be collaborated on in real-time), but it is the ability to create forms for data collection that is so extraordinary and powerful.
A Google Docs Form allows you to create forms/questionnaires easily and deploy them immediately to your population. Create questions that require respondents to select from a drop-down box, write a short (or long) answer, select a degree on a Likert scale question, etc. Whether you are collecting information on course pre-registration numbers to avoid courses becoming full before enrollment, collecting responses from participants in a study, or just looking for feedback from students, Google Docs Forms is the tool to use. Data from the form are populated to a spreadsheet in real-time, allowing you to watch data come in.
Documents and Presentations
Google Docs documents and presentations are fully functioning documents that can be edited in real-time with collaborators. All of the functionality that you expect in word processing and presentation software is present in Google Docs: advanced formatting, tabling, annotating, tracking changes (i.e., revision history), inserting equations, adding a header and footer, etc. Engage students in paper review sessions and watch as your comments are incorporated into their work; contribute to a co-authored article, etc. Watch in real-time as those editing the document work, comment and collaborate on changes, and have synchronous discussions in a chat window. Suggest to your class that groups of collaborating students use Google Docs to work together and have them include you as a viewer to provide feedback.
Google Docs provides a suite of applications that are immensely powerful, especially when collaboration is an essential part of our work. In fact, collaboration takes on a new meaning with Google Docs. Instead of requiring time to sit with a collaborator, or constantly email revisions, thoughts, and ideas, a single copy of the document exists for everyone involved, easily accessible and available. Discussion transpires within a chat box, edits are instantaneous, and true teamwork that centers around the document—and not finding times to meet, or synchronizing numerous copies of the document—can occur using Google Docs.