In 2008 I was invited to write a series of blog posts for the Official Google Docs blog. I have decided to repost them here to highlight some of the challenges I faced at the time and in an effort to help you, not only with the use of Google Docs but also other online collaborative tools.
Modelling expected behaviour and good practice first
As our first Google Docs project began to gather pace last school year, I realised that the children were finding it difficult to work together. With hindsight it is easier to recognise that the children were not only being introduced to a new piece of technology (the Docs tool) but also their traditional way of working was to be challenged by the new concept of working collaboratively in an online document.
It was clear that the children were unsure about the way they should be working together. They were each working on their own laptop and it was not the technical side of things that they struggled with, it was the fact they were expected to interact with others in their group as well as use a screen. I found it very useful to model the process. Just as I would if I were showing the children a style of writing in Literacy or a type of stretch in PE. I worked with a colleague on an example document and gave the class a running commentary as to what we were doing. As we worked we talked to each other and I underlined some of the key features of what made that short demo collaboration successful for us.
I think that every class of children will respond differently to the challenge of working together in an online doc, but it proved incredibly valuable to our classes to model what is expected of them. In September, I’ll have a new class and I will be keeping in mind this idea from the outset. Another idea would be to encourage the students to demonstrate the concept to the class – this is much harder to show but valuable nonetheless. I will be planning in time to model the technical and communications side of working together and also reflective time with the groups throughout the project to discuss and review the process of collaborating.
Introducing group collaboration: entire class, working in pairs, and groups of four
With the 9 and 10 year-olds in my classes, I found it valuable to take small steps towards an open collaborative project with 4 or 5 group members. As I introduced Google Docs to the class, we began to work together on documents that everyone could contribute to, revealing the ways that it worked and how it updates. In many respects this could be labelled as modelling the process that the children will in turn use later on. It proved valuable to be able to prove the concept to the children in a simple “step in, step out” controlled type contribution, nothing protracted. We added ideas to a large grid within a spreadsheet, with the children being told to choose any cell to write in – you could also invite them to fill in some information about themselves next to their name in a class list document. This single contribution to a whole class document was our first step.
It was followed by children working together in pairs on one document – a laptop each, sitting next to each other and sharing the document between them both. Finally the children worked in a larger group of 4 in a more lengthy collaboration as part of a Geography project. I believe it is important to progressively build up to bigger group collaboration and for this coming academic year I will be taking the same approach in developing the children’s collaboration experience over the first 6 weeks of term.
Next: It’s About the Communication Not The Tool