There are innumerable technology tools in the world today, and more are created all the time. They all have their uses and limitations, but the one that I have found most valuable for instruction so far is Google Docs. The possibilities of this tool are limitless. Here are a few ways I have used it or can envision using it.
Delivery of Instruction
One of the challenges of teaching history is that students often need so much new background knowledge before they can engage in complex, authentic tasks. Often, this information comes in the limited forms of having students read the textbook or take notes on a lecture. Google Docs can enable teachers to shift the means of gaining information to the students, especially through notes in a hyper document.
One way I have seen of doing this is dividing the document into three columns: Questions, New Information, and Student Notes.
All the new information a teacher wishes students to gain is chunked in the middle column. This could be excerpts from the textbook, slides from PowerPoints, links to articles or video clips, or a combination. In the Questions column to the left, teachers can write guiding questions for students to answer about the new information. Students can jot down their own notes in the far right column.
These notes can be an excellent way to have students work repeatedly with the information, in order to facilitate memory. After going over the information the first time, students can summarize the notes, write their own questions to help review, and highlight. In the example above, my students exchanged notes and spent some time answering their peers’ questions.
Google Docs has a great highlighting add-on that allows the user to set highlighter categories. Once finished highlighting, you can export only the highlighted information, either by category or by the sequence. This can help students weed out extraneous material and focus on significant information.
Students Analyze Texts
The highlighting add-on can also be used when students are analyzing historical texts. When reading the text, students can highlight different information they might want to use later: For example, they could have a blue highlighter for background information, yellow for evidence that supports one argument, etc. Then when they are finished, students can export the highlighted information into a document that will contain only the information they might want to use in their analysis.
Aside from that, regular Google Docs features can also facilitate student textual analysis. As seen above, students can annotate the text in comment boxes. Comments can be definitions of unfamiliar words, questions for clarity, questions for future research, or reactions to the text. Students with visual impairments can enlarge the text to whatever size they need.
What makes Google Docs especially valuable is the collaborative nature of the tool. Students can share their documents with each other, and any number of student can work on a live document at the same time. Unlike traditional group projects, where one person gets stuck as the recorder, here every student can share that task and write together. In cramped classrooms, students can work in groups without having to leave their seats, thanks to the chat feature, and students can continue their work anywhere. If parents are unable to transport their student to a peer’s house for a group project, the group can still all work on their project at the same time via the internet. Of course, they still can collaborate in person.
These are just a few of the possible classroom applications of Google Docs. Do you have any other ways of using this tool? Are there any technology tools you would recommend? Let me know down in the comments!