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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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Tom Barrett

Tom is a writer, speaker and consultant. He has been sharing his thoughts on teaching, learning, curiosity and creativity on this blog for over 10 years. Drinking coffee and writing would be his idea of a perfect day.

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7 Comments on "Unobtrusive Collaboration in Google Docs"

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[…] participants working alongside each other on the same document. Google docs allows the power of unobtrusive collaboration, as written by Tom Barrat. He introduces the idea of ‘live marking’. Children are working on a piece of work that […]

Eric Nentrup
Eric Nentrup
4 years 9 months ago
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… Read more »

[…] we were working in Google Docs I dipped into their work as they were busy writing. I have written before about how this is less obtrusive than looking over their shoulder or taking their books off of […]

Oliver Quinlan
6 years 7 months ago

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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[…] net een heel interessant bericht van Tom Barett Unobtrusing Collaboration in Google docs waarin hij beschreef hoe hij Google Docs gebruikte om […]

7 years 7 months ago

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