Enhancing Small Group Discussions in a Large Lecture with Google Docs and Google Forms

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.

At other times, LaVaque-Manty asks each group to create its own Google Document and share it with the instructors. He uses this strategy for brainstorming or for answering specific questions. In addition to standard text-based documents, LaVaque-Manty has used Google Drawings to encourage students to engage in visual brainstorming and concept mapping during class. Instructors can read, comment on, and even grade documents and drawings after class.  

He has also used Google Forms during lectures as a surrogate for personal response systems (i.e., "clickers).  To assess student understanding of instigate class discussions, he collects student responses to multiple choice or short-answer questions and display summaries of the data in real-time, leveraging students lap top computers and smart phones to increase engagement and interactivity.