Digital Age Teaching and Learning

Tips for Teaching K-12 Students to Collaborate with Google Drive

Tips for Teaching K-12 Students to Collaborate with Google Drive

Adding technology to your teaching can be intimidating, but with the right approach, things won’t be so bumpy.  Read below and learn how you can successfully help students collaborate with Google Drive.

When we think about technology, we tend to think about people isolating themselves behind their devices.  The teens and parents ignoring each other at the dinner table, their faces illuminated by screens, distractedly poking at their dinner plates between chats and emails.  The downfall of the modern family.

So when we hear the words “collaboration” and “technology” used together, we are tempted to jump at it in hopes that it will allow us to bridge the gap between devices and socialization.  Collaborating with Goggle Docs can be great, with the right approach.  But it isn’t without its pitfalls.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

General Confusion:

When you start something new, it is easy for children to get confused.  And while this is a generation raised with technology, you will be amazed at what simple concepts will turn into speed bumps.  I have had problems with concepts as simple as activating accounts or resetting passwords, both of which seem like things teenagers with social media accounts would already know

How to Avoid It: Take everything step-by-step and really work on defining the vocabulary you use—everything from right click to copy and paste.  Also keep in mind that you need to be consistent with the terminology you use and that you stick to the vocabulary used by Google Drive.  You are making a doc, not a page.  It is Slides, not Power Point. 

Off-Task / Goofing Around:

The first time my students were allowed to collaborate on their own, the games immediately began.  Diego was erasing Chris’ work.  Paulina was inserting poop emojis.  It deteriorated into chaos.

How to Avoid It: Start with clear expectations of what activities are ok and not ok to do. Encourage them to make trustworthy choices and show them how their actions are recorded through the Revisions History link (under File).

Off-Topic Chatting:

Every document created can be turned into a little chat room where the collaborators can discuss their project, give feedback, and more.  The “and more” becomes problematic when it is used to discuss weekend plans, or worse, to bully other students.

How to Avoid It: The simple answer is that you probably cannot—and I know that isn’t what you wanted to hear.  The best way to prevent it is to be actively watching the documents from your computer and walking around looking at their screens.  Your presence is an excellent deterrent.

But that is enough of the pitfalls; now let’s look at how we can help them authentically collaborate.

Establish Individual Roles

While establishing rules should be pretty clear, especially after reading the pitfalls above, establishing roles is also important.  These will change depending on the specific task being completed, however, I will usually have at least one person who is the document owner who functions as the group leader.  Beyond the leader, I may have researchers, organizers, editors, etc.  It is vital that the duties each role comes with are clear.

Make Use of Tables within Docs

When students are collaborating, things can easily become a disorganized mess.  One student is trying to finish a sentence while another is editing it, making things incoherent.  I often use table to divide where each student is working, making it easier to follow what is going on; sometimes, they even highlight their rows in the table in their signature color.

As students complete their portion of the work, they can trade with another, allowing their collaborators to revise and edit their own work.

Stick to Your Time-Frame

Try as you might, you cannot stop the kids from playing around.  But you can stick to your time-frame.  When the kids realize they are going to need to work either now or later, most are going to choose to work now, allowing them to authentically collaborate.

Always Ensure You Are Included

This is partially for the sake of classroom management.  However, it also allows you to be part of the collaboration, ensuring that everyone is doing their part.  You can even see who is in the document at the top and which members have gone idle—a sign that they might not be working on task.

Model How to Use Comments and Chat

Since you will be included in their documents, you should be able to do this as they are authentically working.  However, it is vital that you do a mini-lesson on this before you jump in.  Think about things such as how to phrase constructive criticism, how to highlight when leaving a comment, and how to use suggesting mode.

Do you use Google Drive to collaborate in your classroom?  Share your suggestions in the comments.