Last year Google Docs was upgraded to become Google Drive. Like its predecessor, Google Drive allows you to create and share documents with ease. The enhanced Google Drive format has given the program some wonderful additional features that I encourage you to explore. However, right now I want to highlight how useful Google Drive is in providing feedback for students. (If you are not familiar with Google Drive, here is a brief video highlighting the concept.)
Google Drive is entirely free and works within any browser, although to enjoy all of its features, you do need to use Google’s Chrome Browser. Chrome is also free and will allow you to integrate content and material across devices and platforms. It’s certainly worth adding to your software toolkit.
Using Google Drive with student writers
With Google Drive students can create a variety of content, but here we are going to focus on word processing documents.
The Google Drive word processor is less feature-packed than Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages — which actually makes it easier to use. That said, Google has included most of the popular word processing features, including text formatting, headers & footers, image insertion, etc.
Students will need a Google account to create and share documents; this is the way Google assures that document access can be controlled by the creator. When creating a new document, students simply select “create” and then “document.” Voila! A new text document appears and they proceed in the same way they would using any other word processor.
What makes Google Drive different is the ability to share documents with others. If a student shares a document with you (their teacher), you now have the ability to not only view the document, but to make revisions or comments along the way. (Be sure students choose the “can edit” option when they give you sharing privileges.)
The share/feedback feature is a really powerful teaching tool.
Instead of emailing documents back and forth (which is a huge pain with many opportunities for confusion) teachers can go quickly to Drive, find and open the student’s paper in the Drive table of contents, and make “live” comments and corrections on the student’s paper.
There are no duplicates or separate versions floating around in your inbox or mail folders — the student’s document is always available in the cloud at your Google Drive account.
To make a comment simply highlight a section with your cursor and click the “comment” button. You can add as little or as much text as you would like. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself giving students more feedback, more often, and in less time, thanks to Google Drive.
You can track the history of revisions
Google Drive also makes it easy to track revisions and a document’s history. After you make comments on your students’ writing and they make changes, you can go back and trace the alterations they have actually made, step by step, over the course of creation. Just select File > See Revision history and click on any date/time. If it’s too much detail, click on Show less detailed revisions. With a few minutes of review, you’ll have a better sense of how responsive students have been to your feedback and perhaps see ways you can make your feedback more effective.
Once the student’s paper is complete, it’s simple to pull a copy from Google Drive in any of several formats (including MS Word and PDF) by selecting File > Download as… or simply choosing File > Print.
More tools to play with
Once you have mastered the basic elements of Google Drive, it’s time to play with the advanced features. You can explore many tools for teachers at the Chrome store.
One of my favorite new techniques is to leave my students voice notes. By using the free Learnly Voice Comments tool, you can incorporate your own spoken comments into any Google Drive document. This is a great way to provide broader feedback. Here’s a teacher at YouTube, describing how it works:
Shifting your classroom from paper or computer-resident writing systems into the cloud may seem like a big and even intimidating step. But the payoff is worth the effort. By harnessing the power of Google Drive, you can explore your students’ writing process in depth, at the click of a link, and provide them regular, dynamic and meaningful feedback. As a result their writing and research skills will improve and the feedback process will become more fluid and enjoyable for you.