I was at NCTE's annual convention in Boston in November. I meant to write about it well before now, but work's been busy and I've been scattered. I'll be discussing more about it in future posts. For this post, I want to discuss something I heard a lot about at the convention: Google Drive as an online collaborative tool.
Okay, so I need to say more than that!
Internally at the International Reading Association, we don't really need that kind of collaborative software: We have MS Office and shared drives. I can save a file in a folder, send an address to team members, and they can access the document. One at a time, or else get the dreaded "This document is in use! Read Only for you!" warning.
RWT however is an online collaborative project with NCTE, and as such we need online collaborative tools. Enter Google Drive. I can create a document and send a link to all the team members give them access. They can open it from any device connected to the internet (I am often pulling up docs in meetings on my tablet rather than bringing paper print outs), and any number of us can be in there editing the same time, no problems. Edits and saves happen real time, so there is no need to worry about losing a change. Previous versions are saved, and all the changes made by a single user are logged and noted. Therefore, if, say, Lisa and I are both editing the same document at the same time, someone else can still see what each of us changed.
I've started putting more and more of our documents into Google Drive. For instance, I am the tracker of our website's traffic numbers. I keep a detailed spreadsheet analyzing the patterns and monthly numbers. Previously, any time anyone needed to know traffic, say for a quarterly report, I'd get a request, and when I had time, I'd check my spreadsheet and send back the requested data.
No more! Our traffic spreadsheet is now available to the entire team through in the form of a Google spreadsheet. I even have it set so that only I can edit it; any team member can look at the numbers, but they can't accidentally make changes (though, as noted I could easily see version histories to check if any changes were made, but because I am the only person who records the data, why even let their be a chance for mistakes?).
I hope you can see how useful this is for a team, particularly a team that works in completely different locations. Any document can be shared and revises without ever needing to worry about which is the most current; we're always seeing the most recent, "live" document.
If that works for a team in the business world, it can work in a classroom.
Easy mode: A teacher can share documents for the students to read: it's cheap and green (no print outs) and a no one can lose it (it's online and available 24/7). Google Drive allows for the upload of many document types for sharing, including PDFs and MS Office documents.
Hard mode: Writing teams in a class can collaborative on writing project. As noted, there is no need to worry about who's got the most recent version, or worse, losing drafts completely! The teacher, if shared on the document, can peek in at any time to see how the group is doing and can even make comments and offer suggestions (very much like adding comments in Word). The teacher can check the revision histories to see which members of the team are being the most productive and which might not be making the most appropriate additions and edits, thus giving a chance for formative assessment during the writing process without needing to collect drafts.
Teachers can even use it as a way to collaborate with each other, passing lesson plans and other ideas back and forth, checking them out when they have the time.
If you have never tried Google Drive, I recommend it. It does require a Google account, and bringing it into the classroom like this would require all students to have Google accounts, which might not be reasonable for all teachers/classrooms/schools.
ReadWriteThink.org is not associated with Google nor am I getting any kind of kickbacks from Google for posting this (but if they wanted to give some after reading it...). As I said, the use of Google Drive in the classroom was mentioned in a few sessions I attended in Boston, and I personally and professionally use Google Drive all the time. At one of the sessions, another attendee shared with me (and those present at the session) a presentation he had that addressed a topic that was being discussed during the session. Right then and there, he was able to share a link and we could all see (and save a copy for future reading) his presentation. It added so much to the conversation!
Is anyone else using Google Drive as a collaborative tool, either in or out of the classroom? How have your experiences been?
More about NCTE to come in the following weeks. Next time, I think I'll talk about project-based learning. I attended an excellent session on that!