Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Google Docs

I had some experience with Google Docs before this class. I used it mainly as cloud storage. It was helpful for having resumes and important documents available anywhere when my wife and I were traveling.  I had only really experimented with the word processing aspect of it before this class as well.
I'm so happy that Google Docs was covered early in the course. Learning about its various capabilities beyond word processing and the collaborative benefits has revolutionized how I've worked on assignments in all my courses.
Collaboration = doubleplusgood!
This is what really blew my mind about Google Docs. I still remember the class all simultaneously logged into the Hopes & Fears document with it projected for all to see. The multicoloured cursors creating, altering and destroying was like a digitized fireworks display. While it may not have been very productive at the time, the implications of this activity have set off fireworks in my head that have been very productive indeed.
Group work has been revolutionized. Finding a time and place to meet that works for every group member has always been one of the most difficult aspects of group projects in my experience. The ability to work on a collaborative file, accessible to each group member and updated in real-time vastly reduces this difficulty. A specific time and place for everyone is no longer required. Individual work time and a deadline is all the is required. If I have to work when everyone else is working on the project, I can simply see the changes the next day when I sign in (and everyone else is now working) check the chat and start on my section. This works amazingly well for busy university students trying to juggle multiple courses' workloads and very often jobs as well.
In general, the Google Docs suite is lacking the advanced formatting and stylistic capabilities that dedicated, downloadable programs have. However, Google Docs is more than capable of managing my day-to-day needs, as it is rare that I need to utilise the aforementioned advanced capabilities.
Google Docs now provides the following:
Documents - An intuitive, easy to use word processer. I've used it for brainstorming, lesson plans that were accessible at school just by saving them and to share projects with group members.
Presentation - It's strange that I want to call it a Google PowerPoint, but it simply is what it says it is: a presentation maker. It's lacking in animations with the only animation option being to reveal points to be revealed one after the other. Perhaps though, especially with presentations, simpler is better. I've used it to create a presentation on Writing-to-Learn strategies for Instructional Methods with a group. Everyone created their own slide individually, but since it was on a shared presentation it was ready as soon as the last person finalized their slide. There was no compiling and reformatting.
Spreadsheet - the capabilities of a collaborative spreadsheet program are mind boggling. So far, I've only used it to keep track of and collectively play McDonald's Monopoly with family. (Sadly, even with three couples playing together we didn't win any major prizes.) Its uses go far beyond this, though. I can imagine worldwide research projects where data can be input on site, with real-time analysis through the spreadsheet formulas and functions. Businesses could do likewise with sales data and discover trends as they are happening.
Form - Allows you to create questionnaires and forms. The collaboration feature makes sending them out and tabulating responses very easy.
Drawing & Table - both are relatively new in the Google Docs suite and allow you to create pictures and various types of tables and graphs. I have a feeling that a collaborative drawing could get pretty hectic.
Collections - While collections are not a specific capability of Google Docs in terms of creating files, they are a very helpful function that allows users to organize files however they see fit. Simply create a collection (a.k.a folder) and store created files in them. I have collections for each of my courses, what I did during student teaching, and resume and job related files. The great thing is that collections can also be shared with others.

Google Docs is incredible! I will continue to make use of it myself and will use it as a tool to enhance collaboration in my future classroom.

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