My Semester with Google: A Reflection

This semester I attempted to go as paperless as possible, relying on Google Drive to be my information medium for students. I used a number of Google features all semester long and have learned a great deal about teaching with Google. This post serves as a reflection of my semester, and hopefully contains some useful tidbits for readers as well. The meat and potatoes of my Google use this semester has been Doctopus, so if you feel this post is too long, just skip to the Doctopus section at the bottom.

Syllabus and Schedule

This semester I decided to convert my syallbi and schedules to Google Drive so that they could easily be updated, easily be accessed, and if need be, commented on by myself or students. It worked very well. I still gave a paper copy of the syllabus the first day of class, but kept the schedule completely online. Both were easily accessible to students from my homepage, but in the future, I think I will make each class into a Google Group and share it with the group. This way, each student has a copy in their Google Drive. I’ll have to explain organizing things into folders since, after looking at students’ Drives, I realized they hadn’t thought to do this themselves. Their Drives are very messy and could do with a little premptive organizing next semester.

Appointment Sheets

An unexpected use of Google Drive was making appointment sheets for writing conferences. I could have used Google Calendars, but is time intensive and tedious. So, instead, I made a simple table with dates and times, and an empty name slot. I shared the document as comment-only, and students made appointments by highlighting the time they wanted and commenting with their name. It was simple for the students and simple for me. I was able to access the schedule from my phone and tablet, too, which made checking appointments a breeze.

Reading Guides

I gave my advanced class an printed book of readings and articles, which we used to read, analyze, and practice various writing skills with. I encouraged them to interact with the text on paper, explaining how to summarize sections, take notes, and ask questions in the margin. I also offered the same readings in Google Docs format and asked students to highlight any vocabulary, phrases, or sentences they had trouble with. I would then respond to these in order to give an explanation. I found that this was really useful for my students. Incidentally, I found that I could respond to comment with by just replying to the email notifications, which saved me a lot of time when I was away from my computer.

Course Documents

I offered all my worksheets, power points, and other materials to all students via a shared folder. This worked well, but in the future I will use the Google Group idea I mentioned above so that students can simply access these documents from their own Drives.

Quizzes

I made a few quizzes with Google Forms, but, honestly, the grading process is so tedious and monotonous (copying and altering formulae with many ifelse statements) that it is really not worth it. Plus, I would prefer it if students got immediate feedback instead of waiting for me to grade it and then return it via Autocrat. I won’t be using Google for quizzes anymore, despite all the wonderful talk this function receives on the net. Instead, I’m planning on trying out the quiz program from ProProfs. Although it is a paid service, it is clearly superior.

Text Walls

I have written about using Google Forms as a text wall service where students can post questions, answers, examples, sentences, etc. in real time to the front of the class. In theory, it’s great, but in reality, it was terrible. Most students couldn’t scan the QR codes I had, and they also had trouble typing the goo.gl-shortened URL. So, I messaged the URL to students via Kakao, but even then some students’ phones just wouldn’t let them post. Honestly, using Google Forms as a text wall service took too long and was too complicated to be useful. The students felt the same way, so after two weeks of usage, I dropped it from my teaching toolbox. Still, for large classes (100+ students), I think it might be worth reconsidering. Luckily, I don’t have to teach any classes over 20.

Google Forms

Nevertheless, Google Forms is still useful. I used it for partner evaluations after a group research paper; an editable vocabulary sheet with useful words from the articles we were reading – students were able to add to, edit, or study this sheet; a reading log sheet where students summarized the reading they did, added some new vocabulary, and analyzed the article for interesting grammar patterns; and of course, student surveys at the beginning of the semester to collect important data.

Doctopus

Doctopus is a document management and distribution plugin for Google Drive. I relied on Doctopus heavily during the semester, and, without it, Google Drive would be severely lacking in functionality. Despite its complexity it is really simple to use and I really got the hang of it after the first try. I used it almost weekly. I used it to not only distribute major assignments, but small homework assignments as well. Here’s a brief list of what I used it for:

  • Practice paragraphs
  • Practice essays
  • Detailed outline practice
  • Assessed paragraph assignments
  • Assessed essays
  • Summary writing exercises
  • Paraphrasing exercises
  • APA citation exercises
  • Research logs for students
  • Research papers

The beauty of Doctopus is you can quickly give students an assignment, and it is already shared and neatly organized with both you and the students. There is no need to wait for the student to share it with you or access a Google Template.

The basic workflow is simple

  1. Create a template for an assignment with Google Docs
  2. Create a roster in a spreadsheet. I made a master roster and just made copies of this spreadsheet for each assignment. It already had Doctopus installed on it, so it made launching Doctopus much easier. One idea for next semester is to use the importrange() function for student email addresses rather than copying and pasting them to the master roster. Several students changed email addresses in the middle of the semester and I often forgot to update the roster. Using importrange() should keep the emails updated.
  3. Select the type of sharing (I used individual and project).
  4. Select the template.
  5. Select the location to save the student files.
  6. Make a unique name for the file which includes variables from your spreadsheet (e.g. $name, $id)
  7. Share!

Furthermore, you “own” the document, which means you can “embargo” the document so that students can no longer edit it, which is extremely useful for setting due dates or submission times. One trick I learned is that, for individually shared documents, you can embargo the document, then, in the Google Drive folder, select all the documents, click “Share” and remove every student so that they can no longer access their document. This is really useful if you want to grade it and you don’t want them to see it until after you are done. Then, simply “unembargo” it and their document is automatically reshared with them. It’s a beautiful, unintentional feature of Doctopus. Unfortunatley, this doesn’t work with files shared with groups.

I did a similar trick with rubrics. I use Google Sheets for really awesome rubrics. After making the template file, I would make a Doctopus roster. However, I would move the email addresses to an empty column and leave the email address column blank. I would run Doctopus and it would create a file for each student but not share it with them (because their email addresses were missing from the “Email” column). After assessing students’ work and filling out the rubric, I would move the email addresses to the correct column, and then embargo/unembargo the files so that Doctopus would automatically share the rubrics with the students. It worked brilliantly!

Conclusion

I will continue to use Google Drives as central tool in my classes. I am constantly learning new things, and no doubt my Google Skills will grown. Next semester is filled with conversation classes, so I am interested to see what uses I come up with for Google Drive.

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