Day 6 - Google Docs for Creative Writing Published 2006-12-19 under , ,

Collaborative writing assignments have always been limited by the problem of merging the contributions of multiple authors. One approach has been for a document to be passed among authors, each making their corrections and additions. This method of collaboration required those authors without the document to be idle making the whole process a bit inefficient as well as frustrating.

Google DocsGoogle Documents approaches word processing from a different paradigm, one where documents are not exclusive to a single editor or computer but instead can be edited by two or more authors at the same time on different machines. Google (which purchased Writely, the originators of this idea) allows authors to create documents which reside online and thus can be accessed from anywhere there is an Internet connection. Authors can then invite others to collaborate on the document. At the bottom of each document is a status bar showing who is currently editing the document.
Google Doc Editors
As other authors open the shared document, you are told of their presence, and as they make changes to the document, their changes show up on your screen - automatically!.

Google Docs has a "revisions" feature that allows you to clearly see the edits made by other contributors as well as a revision history which allows you to view past versions of the document and even revert to one of these past states.

Google Revisions

Google Docs is a great tool for any group project that includes a write-up as it provides a central location for the document that any member of the group can access and edit at any time he/she wants. It is especially useful in collaborative writing assignments where two or more people are working on a document simultaneously.

However, my favorite feature stresses the collaborative relationship between teacher and student. Using Google Docs' Revision feature, a teacher can step through the creation of a document gaining insight into the student's writing process. Teachers can give feedback (using the comments feature) directly on the document making it easier for the student to follow-up with further revisions.


At a party the other day, I overheard a mother of four mention how much they hate group projects. Of course my curiosity was peaked and I quickly joined the conversation to find out what about group projects she found distasteful. One of her biggest complaints was the effort required to find time for groups to meet in person to work on their projects. I describe Google Docs to her and a look of "wow, that's what we need" came over her.

Google Docs is not the answer to all collaboration problems, but if you require your students to turn-in written work (usually produced on a word processor), I would highly recommend that you have them use Google Docs. When you are added as a collaborator, you can offer feedback directly on the document and gain a better insight into the students writing process. Finally, by having the student store the document online, issues of corrupt disks, jammed printers, or failed emails are no longer relevant.

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