Google Docs

Brief Description: 

Group work can be a powerful tool to enhance students’ mastery of course content, motivation, and persistence in problem solving (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith 1998; Deslauriers, Schelew, & Wieman, 2011; Smith et al., 2009; Crouch & Mazur, 2001). Instructional technologies can enhance the ability of student teams to collaborate effectively, increasing access and efficiency by reducing spatial and temporal barriers to teamwork. Similarly, IT can provide novel, efficient, and effective means for instructors to monitor and provide feedback on group projects. Online collaboration tools provide a variety of means to enhance group work.

Tips for Using Online Collaboration Tools

For general recommendations on how to teach effectively and inclusively with online collaboration tools, please see CRLT Occasional Paper 31.  For tips on using specific tools, please see below. Read more »


Professor Jeff RingenbergFollow this link to a short video describing these teaching strategies.

Jeff Ringenberg, School of Engineering, teaches Engineering 101 which has 675 students and an instructional team of approximately 25 GSIs, graders, etc. Due to the scale of the course, Ringenberg has employed a variety of Google Apps efficiently manage this large number of students and instructors.

ENGIN101 uses Google Docs to (1) create and update course policies for the instructional team, and (2) create and edit instructions for student projects and labs. The ability to collaborate asynchronously on the same document has been a particularly useful feature so GSIs can create the instructions, but Ringenberg can give feedback.

ENGIN101 uses Google Spreadsheets to track grading. Multiple users can edit the spreadsheet simultaneously, which minimizes the time and file management required for data entry. The spreadsheet for this courses has multiple tabs, one for each assignment, which are referenced by the master gradesheet to calculate the students' final grades. In addition, Ringenberg has written numerous formulas that allow for question-by-question analysis of students' performance on assignments. Read more »


Photo of Mika LaVaque-MantyMika LaVaque-Manty,  Political Science, teaches lecture courses with 100-300 students and several GSIs. He has used Google Docs to foster and monitor small group discussions during class. Students are divided into groups that are either pre-assigned or based simply on where they happen to sit.

Depending on the number of groups and the purpose of the assignment, they may work on a single Google Document or generate one for each group. In either case, only one student in a group serves as a “scribe,” although other students may view the shared document. This way, a student’s lack of a laptop is not a problem, and the number of documents remains manageable. In cases where the entire class works on a single document, the instructors create it, share it with the students, and divide it into sections so that a manageable number of groups (3-5) works on each section. They can then project the collectively produced document so that the class can debrief it together. Read more »


professor Margherita FontanaFollow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy.

In intensive clinical courses, dentistry students frequently request study guides to organize and digest the deluge of content. Margherita Fontana and Carlos González-Cabezas, School of Dentistry, crowdsource this task via Google Docs as a learning activity to prepare students for exams. They assign groups of 10-15 students to each of ten major content areas.

Groups create their own Google Docs and work together to write the best possible exam questions (two per student) aligned with the learning objectives in the syllabus. To earn credit, questions must go beyond regurgitation of facts and require the evidence-based application of key concepts. The instructors provide a few questions as models. Groups share Google Docs with instructors, who provide feedback. After students revise their questions, instructors compile them in a new Google Doc that is shared with the entire class. Read more »


Photo of professor Robin FowlerHere is a short video on this teaching strategy.

Robin Fowler, College of Engineering, co-teaches Introduction to Engineering, a course in which student teams design, build, and test products for professional scenarios (e.g., Company X needs a remote-operated vehicle to investigate subglacial life at the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica). Teams need to apply course concepts to evaluate competing designs relative to client-generated objectives and constraints. However, teams often pursue suboptimal designs due to poor group process.

To enable more equitable and conceptually sound design decisions, Fowler shifted team meetings from face-to-face discussions to synchronous, text-based online discussions, during which team members are geographically dispersed. Fowler creates a Google Doc for each team, including each student’s individual project idea and a decision-making matrix to be completed as a team. Students simultaneously access these materials and negotiate decisions at preordained times using the commenting and chat features in Google Docs. Read more »