Why Google Docs?
I have always been interested in technology and the idea of technology integration in my classroom, but wanting to do this and having the resources to do so have made this journey long and difficult. I have been in my current job for seven years, teaching English 9 at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School. For the first several years the only computer access I could obtain for my students was in one of three computer labs that were shared by all 1100 or so students in the building. Four years ago the freshmen were given the computers handed down to us from the middle school and there were many, many connectivity issues, not to mention the repairs that were frequently necessary. Then the laptops in the best condition were placed in a cabinet and three teams each of 85 or so of our freshman students shared 30 computers. Last year OHCHS went 1 to 1 with Netbook computers and the world has suddenly shifted in favor of technology integration.
Last year, because of my interest in technology integration, I volunteered to become a member of the Technologist Team in my school and I was paid a stipend to conduct workshops on staff development days. Being fairly new to tech integration myself, I offered a popular Mac 101 workshop and covered topics from turning on the laptop, to familiarizing people with Dock applications on our MacBooks. Of course Photo Booth was very popular, but my colleagues found creating mailing lists in First Class, using Stickies, and Noteshare to be helpful. Key Note and iPhoto were other popular topics.
This was all well and good; however, toward the end of the year the Mac 101 session was still offered, but fewer people showed up and I ended up repeating a lot of demonstrations on topics discussed earlier. As this was going on, I was hearing of the great things my other technologist colleagues were sharing in their workshops while my technology skills had come to a standstill.
I kept hearing about the Google Docs workshop, and the idea of using this application to move toward a paperless classroom intrigued me. I had seen my colleague, Richard Byrne (known for his award winning website “Free Technology 4 Teachers” present a brief overview of Google Docs Forms and I knew I had to learn more – but there was never a time or opportunity.
Then David Boardman gave me the perfect incentive when I received an invitation to participate in the Maine Writing Project course, Digital Literacy. My action research project would be to learn the ins and outs of Google Docs and use it in my classroom with the goal of going paperless. I wanted to discover how Google Docs impacts student learning and engagement in my classroom and how using this technology changes how I teach.
It took some time and a lot of help from colleagues, personal research and practice on my own, and even help from my students. I enlisted a student to set up an account using directions that I had tweaked after borrowing them from a colleague. The student rewrote the instructions to be more peer friendly:
I am feeling much more comfortable using Google Docs at this point in the school year. I am particularly liking the fact that students can no longer give me the excuses for missing assignments like, “My printer is broken” or “My computer crashed and I lost my entire project,” or even, “I completed it and printed it out, but left it on the kitchen counter – right by the door!” The students have lost the ability to make these excuses; if they did the work, we can access it from any computer. If they forgot their login information (which rarely happens now) I have the sealed envelops that they gave to me with this information on the day of our account set up for my for the team.
The science teacher suffered a personal family loss in mid-August, and was out on bereavement leave for the first month of school. He came back just after I had gotten all of our students set up with Google accounts and he was very enthusiastic to try it too. He’s young and way more tech savvy than I am, so he has helped me with some issues. One day he showed me how to “Hide” assignments after they’ve been graded and filed. He also answered my questions about creating quizzes using the “Forms” application in Google Docs.