I don’t think I’m alone when admitting that it took me quite some time to figure out where the “Save As” command was in the new Microsoft Word 2007. When I realized that the Microsoft Office icon in the upper left-hand corner held the key to this little treasure (among many other common commands we have been trained to use), I felt a bit cheated. Coupled with having to learn how to use this new program (and the other Office applications), I turned to a more familiar format–Google docs.
If you and your students have not used Google docs and spreadsheets, then take a look at these free online applications. For 99% of most of your work, these online applications work great. Sure, you are not going to use them to complete your dissertation or other more sophisticated documents that benefit from built-in bibliographic software and the other advanced features of Word (styles, table of contents, figures, etc). But for your everyday writing, drafting, and sharing/editing work with others, Google docs meets those needs.
And Google docs has improved over time. One of the things I really didn’t like about it was the inability to organize and group work. For instance, if you are having your students create and work on a document in Google docs and sharing this with you and other students, you end up with a lot of documents all in a pile. You might have several classes and want to look at, comment, and revise papers according to the class. Now, you can put files in folders, so your document window is more organized and not as cluttered looking. (See below for an example of what google docs looks like. It’s a thumbnail, so just click the image to enlarge.)
Okay, you may be asking, what is the advantage of using Google docs over having students submit the papers in hard copy, by email, or even through the assignment feature of Blackboard? Well . . . if they are working on a paper with multiple drafts, it’s easier to see their progress (all revisions are saved in Google docs so you can view the history at any time), find their paper and comment on it, and of course include peer-review. The document remains in a centralized place, so you can never lose it.
There are all sorts of other ways you can really save a lot of your time by using Google docs to review student writing. For instance, if the documents are made public (and for most cases, this would be okay), they can be accessed through an RSS feed, alerting you immediately when one of them have been edited. You can then click this feed and see what has been done. (If you still don’t use feeds, I’m going to talk about it during a workshop in October that I will announce soon.)
Google docs can also be published and provide the writer with a URL. This web page is automatically updated when any changed are made on the document. It can’t get much easier than that.
Google has added a Presentation feature (similar to PowerPoint) where you can work collaboratively on a presentation. Again, for most situations, this feature would provide you with a more than adequate presentation. I have not played with this yet, but will and will report back with my findings. Or, if any of you have used it, please let me know. Remember, you can be a contributor to this blog. Just email me.
ANOTHER COOL TOOL
I’ve also been using Zoho as an alternative to Google docs. It has a rich set of tools (see image below) and is very user-friendly. I would say that the only drawback would be that Google is so integrated into everything (when receiving a Word document attachment in gmail, for instance, you have the option of opening it in google docs, for instance.) But the zoho tools (take a look at zoho project–it will make a believer out of you) are complete and getting better and better. Try them out and let me know what you think.