Google Docs

I would very much like to add a Google Docs week to the already packed ENGL3043 syllabus, but I’m not sure what to leave out!

So my compromise for the Spring 2012 semester is to blog about the educational applications of Google Docs, a topic that has been discussed thoroughly on many a teacher site.

  • To access the applications, students can set up their own account with a valid email address, or you can set up a class email account through Gmail (ex. and give everyone the username and password.
  • Students don’t need software at home. They only need an Internet connection at home, a friend’s house, a library, a parent’s work place, etc.
  • Google Docs looks and works a lot like Microsoft Office.
    • word-processing option (like Word)
    • spreadsheet option (like Excel)
    • presentation option (like PowerPoint)
  • It can be used as a basic file storage or assignment submission portal, where students keep copies of their work and/or turn papers in to you.
  • It can be used to compose the assignments from start to finish, with everything saved to the web. Google Docs tracks revisions of files, so you as the teacher can see revision in the writing process without collecting piles of paper.
  • You can really get students working on practical mathematics by having them build charts and graphs from their calculations.
  • Google Docs is an excellent option for team projects. One file, and anyone can access and edit it. It’s actually kind of unnerving to be working on a file and see something on the other side of the screen changing because a team member is online at the same time!
  • The Forms option in the spreadsheet allows you to create simple surveys to get feedback from students and their parents.
  • As the overview for educators from Google observes, students can’t say they left their work at home or in another folder.

Personally, I use Google Docs to back up copies of important files, like my research; to distribute materials to students (the 200-page review manual for the English comprehensive exam is stored in Docs); and to streamline my grading and data reporting. We faculty members have to provide evidence that y’all are learning something, so we score exams and projects and papers using rubrics and crunch the numbers to see where gaps might be.

For instance, for the B.A. in English, one learning outcome is that students possess knowledge of literary periods. I test students on this information in several classes, to see if they get better over time. I set up forms for midterm and final exams and input the right/wrong answers for each student, using a 0 for incorrect and a 1 for correct. Here’s an example of how one of my actual forms looks:

Screen shot of a form from google docs

I export (or download) the resulting spreadsheet to Excel and calculate the average, mean, mode, standard deviation, and all that good stuff. Hopefully I find an improvement between the midterm exam (the pre-test) and the final exam (the post-test). I could do all of this straight in Excel, of course. The advantage is that I can opt to share my data with colleagues and other university personnel. The English faculty have even used Google Docs to assess hundreds of ENGL 1123 and 1133 papers!

So what do you think? Should the next edition of ENGL 3043 include a week of discussion and practice with Google Docs?


2 thoughts on “Google Docs

  1. Brittani Stokes

    Google docs is something that I am going to consider since it can be used as a backup for storing important information. in addition to google docs, I have heard people using it for team projects.


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