Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Join us: The Google phenomenon -- Google Drive/Docs


This summer, my computer was up for re-imaging and I had to remove all my documents from the computer. Two USB drives later, I was ready to go. Also this year, my personal laptop finally gave out and my husband pulled all my things from the hard drive. So, now we're at 3 USB drives, a separate hard drive, and various documents saved in emails. At some point, it just becomes too much. Enter knight in shining armor....


But seriously, it was my frustration with all the programs, and ports, and operating systems, et cetera, et cetera that prompted me to try the new Google Drive (originally Google Docs). 

Google is fairly user friendly and I certainly don't want to spend my whole post talking about setting things up, but I do want to point out a few new features of the Drive:
  1. The Drive is a downloadable file/program for your computer -- You no longer have to go to the website to upload documents. This file automatically syncs with the online drive!
  2. You don't have to sit and watch files upload -- Since the drive automatically syncs, all you need to do is move files to the Drive folder. Google will automatically update the online drive for you and your files will be accessible
  3. You don't need any programs -- My personal laptop does not have Microsoft Office and I have no plans to purchase it or download it. Instead Google Drive has all of those formats in it already. I can upload any of those files from my old computer and they are usable on the Drive. When you upload a Microsoft document, you will convert it to a Google Document, but than you can download it in a number of formats (doc, PDF, etc). 
  4. You can broadcast to students using the Drive -- I am not sure how long this has been a feature of Google. One of the reasons I was hesitant to use Google Docs/Drive was that I didn't want to make a presentation in Google and then have to download it and present it, thus requiring the programs I was trying to avoid. I have recently discovered that not only can you turn a PPT into a Google presentation, but you can present from it. It works just like a PowerPoint and has a full screen option.

What I really want to focus on is how we can apply and use these tools in the classroom. There are many uses both directly in the classroom and in planning. I'm going to highlight a few here and, eventually, add another post updating ideas. Please feel free, and I encourage you to, to add your own ideas in the comment section! The more ideas we have, the better!

  • Planning
    • Above is a view of my own Google Drive. I have organised the drive into general folders and then into specific units/themes. I can easily jump from one folder to another without having to go back to the main Drive folder. I can also easily see the last time something was updated. This makes planning really easy and allows me to move quickly between classes and levels.
    • Another thing Google does really well is collaboration. I can open any document and share it with anyone, even if they don't have a Google account. I can also edit their role. I can send a document I don't want edited (like a syllabus) or a document that I only want comments on (like a paper or presentation). I can also allow them to edit the document themselves or own the document (that is, allow them to delete it and change basic things). I can also choose when to stop sharing with everyone. This would be especially great if you are having someone collaborate on a lesson or test, but then want to personalise it for your class. You could initially share the document and then unshare the document. Similarly, you can create your own copy of the document to keep a separate, pesonalised, copy.
    • When I am ready to print or email a document, I can download it in a variety of forms. If it is a closed document (syllabus, paperwork, etc) you can download as a PDF. If it is an open form, or an assignment with blanks/spaces for activities you can download as a word document. I can also download basic documents as text, html, open documents, PowerPoint, Excel, or an image. I really like this because then I can upload something to my Google site and students can work from their computers, but I'll talk more about that in the instruction portion.
    • As mentioned in my previous post, Google is greatly connected. Any file in my drive can be easily linked to in the calendar (see my next post!), a Google site, an email, etc. This makes it really easy to update things from anywhere.
    • The Drive offers a variety of document styles and makes it really easy to create forms. You can create polls, registration documents, and contact documents, as well as collect data and organise it in a spreadsheet. You can keep track of money collected (for those of us who also collect money) or keep track of points and averages.
    • I'll start with the connection to planning: student collaboration. This goes two ways: I can collaborate with students and students can collaborate with each other. If I connect a document assignment in my website, students can then go and access that in the Drive. Students can work individually or share the document (so they don't have to be sitting together) and work together. I require students also share the document with me. I can then view their document and see what they are editing and what they are saying in chat (not to be sneaky or creepy or anything).

      We recently did a project that spanned 3 weeks. Students were in groups presenting their case in Latin and had to do lots of research and writing. Each group created a Google Document and shared it with their groups and with me. I was able to check on student progress while handling other issues and answer questions without running across the room every 2-3 minutes. After that class, I could go back, check their work and leave simple comments to direct them the next day. Within the comment function of Google Docs, I was able to leave comments that they could then "resolve" or respond to for further instruction. This cut down on time spent in class handling small, minor issues. I could do them at home, overnight, and have them ready for class the next day without taking home massive quantities of paper. Using Google Docs also made it really easy for students to evaluate each other's work quickly.
    • One of the new features of Google Drive is that you have more presentation options when using that function of the Drive. As I said previously, I was a little more than hesitant to use the Drive because I hated having to download a presentation to present it. Similarly, it was quite difficult to make template options stick and have animations work well. Whether I have become more tech savvy or if these issues were fixed, I am now very pleased with the presentation aspects of Google Drive. I can easily upload a presentation or template into the Drive and edit it from there. Inserting animations is particularly easy and the templates carry over well. The only issue I've seen thus far is that, sometimes, the animations loaded in PPT do not fully come over with the uploaded presentation. Inserting them is very easy and so this issue, for me, is not one that bothers me.

      When compared to some of the programs for presentations, I find Google Drive to be the better option. Inserting animations doesn't take over your whole screen and easily pops up next to your presentation without negatively affecting what you see. You can quickly see a preview of the animations and reorder by dragging instead of highlighting and clicking.
    • Finally, as I mentioned in the planning portion, Google Drive makes assignments very easy. Because it is saved on an internet drive, documents are accessible anywhere. I can email an assignment out or share access for collaboration. I can also connect a document to the website via the Drive (which also connects to the calendar, but that will be in my next post). Students can then access the documents in a computer lab or on their phones and work there.

      We don't have a computer for every student in our classrooms, which can make collaboration and technology difficult. One of the ways I combat this is by using Google Docs (which is free for smartphones). One student can keep a set of notes to share, one student can keep a running vocabulary list, etc.
I have found Google Drive very useful in my class and I intend to continue to use it. Here are some ideas for activities that you can do using Google Docs:

  1. Peer Review (using the comment function)
  2. Collaborative Writing (using the share and chat function)
    * Scripts
    * Stories
    * Question and Answer/Interview
    * Essays
  3. Collaborative Study Guides (which students can access at home, at school, or on phones)
  4. Fluid vocab lists (easily editable without making a new list)
  5. Easy grading for essays, stories, other written assignments, and PPT presentations (using comment tool)

I'd love to hear what kinds of ways or what ideas you have for Google Drive! My next post will be on the Google Calendar, which has many new features and is easily compatable with the Drive as well as email and your phone.