Way back in the fall of 2014 when Independent Ideas was a newborn blog, my first post was Why I’m Drinking the “Google Drive” Kool Aid As I finish January “research season” with my freshmen and am full force into Sophomore World History projects, Google Drive has been on my mind. We’ve tweaked our use of Drive over the past two years. We’re now spending less time mandating that everything be done in the same (exacting) format, and instead are focusing on freeing ourselves up to answer individual questions as students work independently in class and at home.We’ve given each student a research partner who is his first responder for basic technology assistance and general questions. (This time of year we have a lot of students missing days for sports championships and Model Congress-type competitions, so partners were tasked primarily with keeping each other up-to-date and answering questions like, “Is there a rubric for the outline?”) Some students chose to share their project folders with their partner, and those who did so benefited from the extra set of eyes on their work. The Google Drive cloud-based platform has proven important not only for the ability to share work, but also for the ability to switch between devices. We’ve learned that the iPad is not the ideal (litotes, anyone?) device for writing a research paper with Chicago-style footnotes.
Basically, beware, the mobile interface sometimes eats your footnotes.We have a class set of computers in the library, and students switch back and forth between PC and iPad depending on whether they are working on steps like note-taking and writing or steps like formatting footnoting and creating a bibliography. We want students to know that the format is standardized and is important, but we don’t want them spending time stressing about a hanging indent.With 80 9th graders this year and a month timeline for the freshman paper process, the teacher and I split up the classes in terms of commenting on individual assignments. We have a modified draft where we pick a few favorite topics (and a few students we specifically want to shepherd along), and then we each take the remainder of the students in two of the periods. Google Drive has shortkeys for commenting, and copy/paste has been my friend for many common concerns. We make sure to leave a trail so that we are supporting each other and providing the same feedback. We sometimes ask struggling students to respond so we know that they are reading our comments and making changes. I have my account set up so that anytime a comment is added or someone responds to one of my comments, I receive an email. These link right back to the document and provide context. “Is this too vague?” now refers to a sentence and not to the paper as a whole. I feel like feedback is targeted. In this particular project, two of the top freshmen worked diligently on their papers on their own asking for feedback electronically on an almost daily basis. Their final papers were much better because we were able to give them the individual support that they craved as they reached sticking points in the process.The visibility and sharing are helpful for our internal coordination as well as for other supportive resources. As we plan our trip to the public library, we give the librarians at the Central Library viewing access to our topic/thesis/is this student on track spreadsheet that we update daily. They pull materials and run database searches on each subject. I can’t praise their reference department there too highly! Students working with tutors and with our Center for Academic Success staff share their folders so that the individuals working with them can use our comments to guide their work. Students have been known to share their files with other History and English teachers, especially during the revision process.Another change over the last two years involves file types. On those occasions when I serendipitously come across the perfect article for a student’s research while working with another student, I’ll drop a file into her folder. These unpredictable surprises can’t help but lead to a little dopamine spike and maybe more time spent working on research. (On a related note, here’s how we talk about the compulsive desire for technology with our students.) We play around each year with requirements for notes, and for the past two years we stuck with this wording. “We encourage you to take notes in Google Drive so we can see what you’re working on and accelerate you to the next step. However, if you’re someone who learns better with paper notes, listen up. At the end of each class period, take a picture of your notes from the day and upload them.” The vast majority take notes in Drive, though a few students in each class thank us profusely for letting them work with paper and pen. Moving beyond photos, let’s talk about extra credit. Almost every student will admit that teachers recommend that they should read their papers aloud to themselves as they revise. But they don’t. We’ve taken to offering one optional extra credit point to freshmen who record themselves reading the first three paragraphs of their essay and then record a 30-60 second reflection of the experience. They upload the audio to Google Drive, and we check that it’s complete. The feedback is pretty consistent.
“My paper didn’t sound like I thought it did.”
“I hate my voice.”
“I have a lot of work to do over the next week.”
By now you’ve probably figured out our secret plan; the extra credit is just a gateway point to more time spent revising and a better final product.As this has been a relatively glowing review of Google Drive thus far, it’s time for the two caveats. Students are terrible at remembering to make their files Google Drive files and often upload Pages, Word, or pdf documents. This means that we can’t offer feedback, and we make them resubmit. These are often the same students who create files outside of the folders shared with us, who then wonder why we haven’t reviewed their work. I don’t know why these are the one sticking points, but it’s been consistent for a few students each year.
We’re not paperless yet, but we’re closer. More importantly, for us it’s been a collaboration miracle, letting us work more efficiently as one unit. Any other thoughts on Google Drive? Suggestions for projects or collaborations, particularly for schools that are Google for Education schools?