Unobtrusive Collaboration in Google Docs

We have been using Google Docs with our students for over a year now and I have spent some time writing about our experiences so far. One of the key questions that I have been exploring for a while now is “How do you mark and manage student work in Google Docs?” but this simple question is applicable to most other online office tools. In this post I explore a facet of this type of assessment that I would call “unobtrusive collaboration”.

On a number of occasions in the last year I have taken the opportunity to conduct a “live marking” session with the children in my class. They are working on a piece of work that is shared with me – I open it at the same time and add comments and marking to the piece of work. I would often also back these comments up by talking to the children involved, going over to them to reinforce what I had commented on – actively engaging them in the collaboration.

In some of these instances I would just nip into the doc and take a quick look around to check the progress, leave a comment if appropriate and leave them to it. I think this is an interesting type of quiet monitoring as the children are working. In the online document I can mark, highlight and leave comments without intruding on the flow of work that is taking place.

With paper based tasks or work that does not allow synchronous editing I would have to interrupt what the children are working on to inspect their work more closely. I might have to ask them to scroll to different sections or simply to move their writing hand so I can see what they have done over their shoulder!

Of course we must always find time to talk to our children face to face about the progress of their work, and I am not disputing the value of this, but often it does intrude on the flow of work. This sense of passive collaboration offers us the opportunity to access all of the children’s work very quickly and to quietly monitor progress and to add our comments.

I think that this sort of unobtrusive marking or monitoring is especially useful when my children are working in a small group or a pair. They are often busy talking about what they are doing or about to move onto and I do not want to stop that communication, or break their train of thought. Last Wednesday I quietly added comments and thoughts to my class as they were busy working in pairs on an activity in Religious Education. They picked up on those comments, adjusted their work, responded if they needed to, but it essentially did not halt the immediate process – it was a tacit collaboration.

What experiences have you had of marking and managing the ongoing assessment of work in Google Docs or other online office tools with your students?

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Image: ‘a perfect circle


  1. You’re so right!

    I work like this with my high school upperclassmen on a very regular basis. In fact, I teach them to setup a peer-editing framework from the start of a new writing assignment. I do so by telling and modeling to the students the notion of “turning in a paper before you write it”.I get students in the habit of creating a new document, renaming it with their name and the assignment short name (Suzy Q – Essay 1), and IMMEDIATELY sharing it with ME, and two peers who agree to proofread it. I login to their documents VERY early in the assignment, offer them some encouragement by way of the sidebar chat, and do so to let them know I’m “watching” them (to prevent loafing). I’ll also do this when students don’t have confidence in their writing skills, and I can even give them prompts IN their document while having a sidebar chat about how they feel about the assignment.If it’s a multi-day writing project, I’ll  start the 2nd or 3rd day with a brief demo of how to leave peer comments using the INSERT COMMENT function.Regarding marking up student work, I’ve recently decided to put up a poster in my room with my “short hand” for editorial marks. This replaces the markup we used to do in red ink! So, I’ll highlight a chunk of their text containing the error, and use the keyboard shortcut for inserting a comment, quickly type in something like “SVA” (Subject/Verb Agreement) or “CAPS” or “CS” (Comma Splice). Students can then refer to the poster which includes links to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, one of the BEST tools for remediating grammar and formatting skills.Students who are faster than the rest of the class go into “teacher assistant” mode, and spend the remainder of that period or those days in the lab editing others’ work, and offering encouragement to those who aren’t as speedy with their work.So, I’m a HUGE believer in your approach to the less-obtrusive, more fluid writing instruction. I can’t imagine doing it without GDocs!

  2. This sounds like a great idea, very good to encourage actually using marking to influence work. It is so easy, especially when using docs, to mark a piece of work and not really give the pupils opportunity for your comments to influence what they are doing (or even give time to look at them sometimes!). This approach could really scaffold the children to improve what they are doing, I will definitely try in as soon as I can with my class.

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