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Online Learning 2.0: Google Drive Is Your New Best Friend

Teaching Strategies and Techniques

Online Learning 2.0: Google Drive Is Your New Best Friend

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Some technologies become so ubiquitous that we wonder how we ever got along without them. How did people cook before microwaves, and how did we get money out of banks before ATMs? Google Drive is one of those technologies. Drive is Google's cloud-based suite of collaboration apps that has fundamentally changed how we work together, and once you start using it, you will wonder how you ever got along without it.

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Some technologies become so ubiquitous that we wonder how we ever got along without them. How did people cook before microwaves, and how did we get money out of banks before ATMs? Google Drive is one of those technologies. Drive is Google's cloud-based suite of collaboration apps that has fundamentally changed how we work together, and once you start using it, you will wonder how you ever got along without it. Even those who use Drive are generally unaware of the full scope of its functionality and potential. Below are some uses for Drive that will transform how you teach and work. Shared document editing In the past, when we worked together on documents by sending them around as email attachments, the result was multiple versions floating around, with edits being made to old versions and time lost trying to blend different versions. For this reason, all my work group's collaboration is now done with Google Docs, a Drive app. We put the document in a shared folder on Docs, meaning that all edits are made to the exact same document, and everyone knows where to go to get the latest version. This collaboration can also apply to student work. Have your students do both individual and group work with a document created using Google Docs that they share with you. That way you can monitor their progress to make sure that they are moving along. You can also have students in group projects color-code their contributions so you can see who is contributing or not contributing. This makes the development process itself visual to you, whereas the development process was formerly mysterious to us. Now you can see problems as they arise and head them off. What's more, there is no reason to download the student's work at the end in order to grade it. Just add your feedback to the Google Docs version itself. The work and feedback are preserved in a place that both instructor and student can return to at any time for questions or discussion. Plus, there are no more “the email must have lost it” excuses for missing work. Another good use of Google Docs is to provide students with a template that scaffolds their thinking. We frequently give students assignments that are too open-ended and then penalize them for going off in the wrong direction. Students often need to have their thinking tracked with some simple parameters. You can do this by creating a template document with section headings or some similar scaffolding that students download and then fill in. Since it is on Drive, they simply copy that template into their own folders, rename it, and fill it in, and when it's done you can take a look at it—all without sending documents back and forth. Now students have an easy way to access the scaffolding and no way to “lose” their work, while you have an easy way to view the result and even monitor its development. There are a few newer features of Google Docs that now make this tool even more powerful for teaching. First, the new commenting feature allows collaborators to add content to a document in three different ways. First, they can edit the document directly. Second, they can suggest edits in a track-changes-style format. Students might want to use this function when they are suggesting edits to someone else's contributions. That way the student can spend some time reflecting on the suggested change rather than just having the change just show up, which makes the process a learning opportunity. Finally, someone can post a comment similar to a margin comment in Word, which you as the instructor can use to ask questions of the group or to suggest different directions for their work. Students can even reply directly to the comment itself. Another great new feature is the ability to provide voice feedback to students using the free add-on Kaizena. I've previously discussed the advantages of voice feedback for both student and instructor. Now you can add voice feedback to students' work right in a Google Doc. Click “Add-ons” and “Get Add-ons” to find and add Kaizena to your add-ons menu. Take a look at this brief tutorial on how it works: www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtTjGYQAuDg&feature=youtube. Document hosting You can also use Drive as a general site for hosting content, including documents, presentations, and videos, that you want to share with others. Essentially, you are using Drive as your personal website without having to learn website development. Create a shared folder for each of your classes with all the documents in it. Share it with them once and they will immediately have access to anything you add to it. No more sending around content. Shared folders are also very handy for professional presentations or workshops, as they provide an easy way of getting electronic material to audience members. When I give a presentation or workshop, I create a Drive folder that includes all the content of the presentation as well as additional resources, videos, tutorials, etc. Then I make a one-page handout that includes links to that folder and a QR code to it so that everyone can reach the material with a snap of their cell phones or tablets. Now I can have workshop attendees download anything that I want them to work on or to keep as a reference right from that handout, and I don't bother printing 50 workbooks of 20 pages each anymore. In addition, goo.gl can be used to create shortened URLs, much like bitly does. But it also creates a QR code with the URL for you to download. Just click “details” in the results to find it. Forms Google Forms is a very powerful Drive function that is rapidly gaining a loyal audience among teachers. Essentially, Forms allows you to make an online form to collect information such as survey or quiz responses. You might want to survey your students at the beginning of your class on topics such as their educational background or expectations of the class as well as their preferred contact methods. The results are automatically collected in a spreadsheet created within Drive. It's easy to build a Google Form, much easier than many survey or quiz systems. Watch this tutorial to learn how: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwf72lwPLVY&feature=youtu.be&list=PLoChQlVtu_g51q9QFScY1AOuINQ8jU0Xw. But Forms can also be a powerful way of delivering instruction itself. Traditional online courses separate the content delivery from reflection. Students watch a video or read an article in one place and then discuss it later in a separate discussion forum. Now there is a “distance” between engagement with the content and reflection, and students often forget any questions that they might have had and generally lose much of what they saw. Google Forms can be used to deliver teaching models that integrate content with reflection. For instance, imagine that you are teaching a module on ethical issues in genetic testing. You can build the module as a Google Form by embedding videos, links to websites or documents, and all the content you like. Importantly, each piece of content is immediately followed by a question for reflection. The question could be a simple multiple-choice or short-answer response to ensure that students watched and understood the content. It could also require a short discussion of the student's thoughts or questions. I teach an online class for faculty on the role of relationships in teaching. I use Google Forms to deliver the module by alternating short videos about the topic with examples of faculty interaction with students. Each video and example is followed by a question that forces the faculty member to discuss the content, and even suggest alternate ways to convey the message that was given in the examples. Now participants are applying what they learn as they learn it, and they're stopping to reflect on content before it is forgotten. Take a look at this module from that course to see how it works: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1LDjy_UD-diz_HIiPIgOLMPXoweUMLi7B81iuDjGL8EA/viewform. Spreadsheets Google Spreadsheets is a powerful alternative to an Excel file. My team manages the training for about 400 faculty and so it needs a common source to track faculty status between and within each training. Using Google Spreadsheets was by far the easiest option. The entire training problem is captured as columns in the spreadsheet, along with important correspondence and any issues. Now everyone on my team knows exactly where to go to get up-to-date information on any faculty member's status. One advantage of Google Spreadsheets is that the [Control]+[F] function allows users to quickly find any information they want. This is a feature of all browsers and will take you to all instances within a Web page where the search term is found. Finding a particular faculty member takes literally a few moments. You might consider using Google Spreadsheets to host student information. The spreadsheet can track assignment completion, which makes it easy to find those who are falling behind. It can also host your thoughts on student work in order to track their progress throughout the class. Finally, you can include agreements made with students, such as extensions, in order keep track of your promises and see when students are making repeated requests. There are a myriad of ways that Google Drive will improve your teaching and professional work. Start using these systems and you will wonder how you ever lived without them. John Orlando writes, consults, and teaches faculty how to use technology to improve learning. He helped build and direct distance learning programs at the University of Vermont and Norwich University, and has written more than 50 articles and delivered more than 60 workshops on teaching with technology. John is the associate director of the Center for Faculty Excellence at Northcentral University, serves on the Online Classroom editorial advisory board, and is a regular contributor to Online Classroom.