Special Report
Classroom Technology

Google Docs Fuels Shift to Collaborative Classroom Writing

By Michelle R. Davis — June 12, 2017 3 min read
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Collaborative tools, and Google Docs in particular, have shifted the way students write, collaborate, and get feedback and editing from teachers. It’s the first thing nearly all teachers interviewed for this story mentioned when asked about the use of educational technology in literature and writing instruction.

“Google Docs and the whole G Suite system for English classrooms is revolutionizing the way we interact with each other and create,” said Bill Bass, the innovation coordinator for instructional technology, information, and library media for the Parkway school district in Chesterfield, Mo., and a former English teacher. “That collaboration is key to helping kids make authentic connections with text and information.”

Allowing teachers to provide electronic feedback within text—instead of “red-lining” papers—paves the way for more transparent revisions and more targeted comments, said Kristen Hawley Turner, the director of teacher education at Drew University in New Jersey and the co-author of several books about ed tech and reading, including Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World.

Turner added that the ability for students to work with each other is just as important.

Group work extends to social-annotation tools, too, said Troy Hicks, a professor of English and education at Central Michigan University and the co-author of Connected Reading. Digital resources like NowComment allow teachers to upload texts and have students highlight, add questions, and create discussion threads with other students.

In a related vein, peer-review tools are also playing an important role. Sites like Eli Review and Writable—Hicks has consulted for both—support the peer-review process, provide step-by-step supports, and encourage effective feedback strategies, Hicks said.

Technology has also enabled personalization in english/language arts. Students have new ways of communicating knowledge, through presentations that might incorporate text, infographics, photos, and video.

Students now have “multiple mediums and modes of creation and consumption that have changed the landscape,” Bass said. Creating movie trailers as book reviews is one example.

However, many English teachers still have concerns that overuse of multimedia can have the effect of dumbing down students’ writing.

The use of personalized digital products is also expanding. Commercial products, like Renaissance Accelerated Reader 360 and LightSail, make it easy for teachers to deliver the same texts but at different reading levels or to customize reading and writing assignments based on those levels. Web-based Newsela, for example, offers daily news articles adapted to reading levels in English and Spanish. Adaptive products like READ 180, which assesses students then provides customized exercises and lessons, are also gaining in popularity.

But teachers need to ensure that adaptive and customized resources push students to read “outside their comfort zones,” Hicks said. “We still want to introduce students to challenging texts.”

One of the biggest struggles for teachers these days is the unreliability of digital tools and infrastructure, Turner said. “Technology fails. If your entire lesson is about students peer-reviewing and writing in Google Docs and the Wi-Fi goes down, you’re up a creek.”

Bass said he sees a future that allows students many more options for reading, writing, and collaborating, and a structure that permits them to choose how to approach the subject. That may mean augmented-reality and video-reality tools with 360 video for telling stories and the ability to communicate and collaborate in “multiple modes.” There’s likely to be more reliance on digital content—from e-books to streaming video. “We’re going to ask kids to interact with the content in many different venues,” he said.

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Coverage of learning through integrated designs for school innovation is supported in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York at www.carnegie.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the June 14, 2017 edition of Education Week as English Language Arts: Google is opening the doors for interactive writing lessons


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