Classroom Tips, Part 1

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutes

After 30 years of teaching, I have found a number of things that work well, most of the time.

Of course, I also keep trying new things and every now and then I come across something new that has potential. This column includes some of these, both tried-and-true as well as new.

Here’s a way to use Google Docs to facilitate in-class group activities that are to be shared with the class. In my case I did this all in the same 1 1/2 hour class, but this could be stretched across several classes (or even lecture sections) just as easily.

Before the class:

  1. You need to create a document using GD that has a space where your students can place links to their documents. A simple table or bulleted list will do the trick.
  2. Get a link to it using the “Get the Link to Share” option. Remember to set it so anyone with the link can edit it.
  3. Post this link on the course website or some other location to which all your students have access.

In Class:

  1. Introduce the activity. Any activity that involves the students creating something can be used here (a presentation, notes, collecting links or media on the web, etc.). In my case I had my class review some case studies that related to ethics and prepare a short presentation (using the GD presentation utility of course).
  2. Have them place links to what they produce or collect in your document (which they can do from their own computers). In the class where I did this, when it was time for them to present the work they’d done, all they had to do was walk up to the front and click on the links in my document which was displayed on the screen for the whole class.

Why this works:

  1. Google Docs are all stored in the cloud so there is no uploading or downloading of anything.
    1. If the students are presenting something, they simply walk up to the front, click on the link in the document you’ve left open in your browser on your computer and away they go.
    2. If the format is a group discussion that you are leading or facilitating, you will have easy access to the items the students are using in their discussions and you can display them for the entire class. Again, no up- or downloading. Everything is available from the browser as soon as the students put the links in your document – which they do on their own computers of course.
  2. All of this happens live – students can edit the ‘main’ document from their own computers as they work and you can watch what’s happening from the front of the class.
  3. GD presentations are displayed as webpages so there is no application to launch and nothing to load except the webpage. If things go awry because a student forgot to set the permissions right, all they need to do is log in to GD as themselves and grab the presentation. It takes about 30 seconds (I had several students do this – and it STILL took a lot less time than the typical set-up for a powerpoint presentation.)
  4. While wikis have the same functionality, not everyone knows how to add content to one. Almost EVERYONE knows the basics of using a word processor or making a powerpoint – they do this in highschool.

Variations on a theme:

  • You can send them off to the library to research something. If the library has any computers then they can access your document from there, attach whatever links they need to and then come back to the classroom. You can ‘watch’ them work and whatever they have produced will be waiting for them in the classroom when they get back.
    • You can, of course use this approach anywhere (even outside), as long as the students have access to the internet and a browser. A treasure hunt, maybe…
  • You can use this for a homework assignment. Even if it isn’t going to be discussed in class, the document you (all) make will be available 24/7 and any changes/additions made by your students (or you) will be available to everyone instantly.

By taking away a good chunk of the administrative hassle, both you and the students can concentrate on the task.

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