Even if you have never heard of Google Docs, you have probably used the application without realizing it. Any time you “preview” a PDF from a Google search, it opens in Google Docs. But that isn’t the only use for Docs.
Google Docs is an application that offers the same document types as the Microsoft Office suite, with many of the same features as well as a few unique ones. In particular, Google Docs offers:
- Browser-based editing for Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Forms, and Drawings
- “Cloud” storage of documents
- Easy document sharing
- Simultaneous editing with collaborators and a chat to facilitate this
- Revision history so that you can see who made which changes and when; you can even restore a previous version
- Easy exporting into standard formats including Microsoft Office formats, PDF, and csv
These functions offer many advantages for use of Google Docs in courses. Students can collaborate on assignments in real-time without having to be in the same place. Documents can serve as a course wiki (and is integrated with EC Learn for this purpose). And the revision history allows you to check that all members of a group are contributing to an assignment. There is even a commenting feature so that you can give students feedback on documents they have shared with you.
Google Docs also makes working on assignments easier for your students. They no longer need to remember to back-up their documents when working on public computers. There is no risk of accidentally losing a document if the student’s computer has problems. And if they accidentally delete content or decide they need to go back to a previous
version they can easily restore one from the revision history. Furthermore, the version mix-ups that can happen when emailing a document back and forth are eliminated.
There are a few commonly used advanced options that aren’t available in Google Docs (e.g. you cannot use columns in text documents; spreadsheets have limited statistical capabilities; you cannot use custom themes in presentations or forms). However, if you need to use features not available, you can easily export a document to a Microsoft Office format. You can also use Google Docs as cloud storage of documents in Microsoft Office and PDF formats without converting them to Google documents.
If you are interested in using Google Docs in your courses, you can create a free account at docs.google.com. If you have a Gmail account, as most of your students probably do, Google Docs is already available to you and you can simply log in with your Google account.