Monday, March 14, 2016

Time for Learning | Doing More With Google Docs

Update the website. Share materials with students. Transfer parts of the unit plan to Moodle or Edmodo. It's easy to get exhausted when managing too many tech tools. 


Technology is engaging – we love all of the bells and whistles. But there comes a time when educators have to reflect on the efficiency of the tools they use. They have to ask tough questions that may leave them taking a few steps back to decide just how much is enough.

My family and I recently made a big move from Texas to Massachusetts. Among other challenges along our path, we chose to take the opportunity to shed some things that were beginning to take over our time. This mission continued for me as I set up a new classroom with new kids, a different curriculum, and a variety of technology choices. 

The most important technology choice criterion, for me, was how much time it took me away from working with my students and spending time with family and friends. Google Docs prevailed over the multitude of options for its simplicity and sophistication. 

When Technology Works for You

Curriculum and lesson planning often starts on a word processing document. Whether you use Word or Docs, it’s where the pieces come together and the teaching and learning is scripted. Generally, these guides are printed for dissemination to students or other stakeholders, and the usefulness is limited to a few possibilities. The resources are posted on a teacher website or blog, and the students and teachers have to take more steps to get organized. 

Then, the teacher notices a mistake on the website. A link is broken or it’s the wrong lesson materials. Fixing an error like this one often entails opening an html editor and completing several more clicks, types, and scrolls before the material flow is consistent with the printed lesson guide. Not to mention the confusion caused by errors in the printed document. This is exhausting just telling the short version of this drama that educators know too well. Imagine the tedious work of keeping your website and teacher-to-student communication platform up to date with the lesson guide changes. It's unreasonable to think that this process is the best use of a teacher’s time.

Google Docs can be used in such a way that reduces a lot of these steps and limits the places where resources are accessed. I’m all about doing the work in one place: the doc. Don’t get me wrong. I love Moodle and Google Sites for all their neat tricks and wizardry. But I’d rather spend time providing feedback and building relationships with my students, colleagues, parents, and anyone else who has a stake in a child’s education. 

Interactive Unit Guides

The nice thing about using apps in the cloud like Google Docs is the ability to share the document and know that recipients will always have the most up-to-date version. This concept is changing the possibilities of what can be done with online word processors. Unfortunately, I took the busy and tiring route -- via websites and learning management systems -- to discover how the cloud could make planning and sharing so simple.

Here are the general steps I take to make an interactive unit guide (also see video below).

  1. Paste the standards-based content from the district curriculum document. 
  2. Insert tables to organize the sections for each unit topic.
  3. The activities and homework sections include hyperlinks to resources stored in Google Drive.
  4. Share the link to the Doc on Google Classroom or post a link on a teacher website, to name a couple of examples. 


Once the doc is ready to share, users have options. Perhaps you want share a PDF to ensure recipients access a particular version. The links will work the sames as in the Google Doc format. For another example, the interactive Google Doc can be shared with PLC members for ongoing collaboration.

What’s More With Google Docs?
  • Organize a doc with the table of contents tool.
  • Make an automatic-copy link. 
  • One doc for one class. Use a table to organize writing spaces for every student.
  • Edit images and insert original drawings without leaving Docs.
  • Google search and look up words without leaving Docs.
  • Use the comment tool to communicate with students (includes email notifications). 
  • The chat tool can be used as a virtual help desk (available on shared docs). 

The Sophistication of Simplicity

I’m not advocating a universal design for the use of educational technology. That would take away choices for teachers and students. This approach simply asks the question: How much time is being spent on managing information? 

Technology’s complexity is supposed to take on a load of work to increase our productivity and efficiency. When it stops working for you, you’re working for it. Avoid this trap by choosing tools that keep it simple without sacrificing sophistication.