Friday, September 3, 2010

First Impressions On Google Docs In A Collaborative Classroom Environment

This week students in my Advanced Computer Technologies class were introduced to Google Docs for the first time and used their new-found skills to collaborate on the creation of the class syllabus.  The first attempt was utter chaos.  Fun, but chaos.  That was kind of deliberate as I just shared the shell of the syllabus and asked them to start working on the classroom expectations.  Not a lot got done but all had fun.  The second attempt went much better in part due to that experience.  We discussed what happened and I suggested that they try repeating the exercise but with one of them designated as the "facilitator".  I also told them that they could not talk and must use the chat window in GDocs. 

The result was really quite fun to observe.  Of course it started out with everyone having fun in the chat window but slowly, they focused on the task at hand (no intervention necessary) and while still having some fun and with the occasional bit of distracting chat room behavior, they came up with a plan and created a draft syllabus in about 30 minutes.  There are 11 students in my class, mostly juniors.

After this exercise we discussed the rough draft and I helped them clean it up into the final version which will in fact be the syllabus for the class and can be viewed via GDocs.  Some of their ideas are pretty cool.  Some of their standards are higher than those of some teachers!  Fun stuff.

I graded them using a simple grade sheet that included written observations of their behavior and contributions, a simple peer assessment, and my assessment.  That doc is also on GDocs but since it contains userIDs and names I won't be sharing that. 

After we were done, we discussed some of the challenges they encountered and alternate strategies to collaboratively create a document including pros and cons of each approach. 

The thing I took away from this exercise is that once again, student's who are comfortable working in collaborative environments will be much more employable than those who are not.  Who knows what the environment will be for each of them but Id say that the trend towards web-based collaboration continues to grow.  There really is no escaping it.  This might sound like stating the obvious but when I extrapolate, I come up against the same question every time:

"What does education need to look like to build these skills in students?"

Not what it is today, that is for sure.  It also points to one of the biggest hindrances to wide adoption of collaborative learning- current paradigms for standardized testing.

Obviously it will rest on each teacher's and administrator's creativity and ingenuity to find ways to incorporate these skills into their curriculum.  If they don't, their students will enter the marked ill prepared for how work gets done.