Monday, October 11, 2010

Using the new, improved version of Google Documents to teach writing in your classroom

Some of you may be using Google Documents for in-class drafting exercises.  The popular columist ProfHacker over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed notes that Google Documents has recently made several changes to its platform some of which are welcome and others, like eliminating the ability to compare different drafts, require a work-around.

Perhaps the most notable [change to Google Documents] is the new document editor (which is now the default for new accounts, unless I'm mistaken). That's a welcome change; the new editor more closely resembles a desktop word processing application than the previous editor did, which makes it feel more familiar to new users.

A second change was not so welcome. One of the best features of the original Google Documents was the ability to compare different versions of a document . . . .  With the advent of the new document editor, the ability to compare different versions of a document suddenly disappeared

But here's the fix:

Happily, I found a solution to the problem in Google Documents itself. Not only can Google Documents import files of various types, it can also export files in a number of formats. For my purposes, the file types in question are .odt and .doc.

What I do, then, is ask students to download their documents on a regular basis. To make keeping track of files a bit easier, I ask them to adhere to a particular filenaming convention. Each document name in Google Documents takes the form of LastnameFirstInitialAssignmentname (so, in the image at left, the document name is BeeblebroxZSampleEssay).

I also ask students to set up a folder for their portfolios on their hard drives. Inside this folder, they can create one folder for each assignment . . . . 

Then, each time I've commented on a draft for any of their essays, that commented draft can be downloaded to the portfolio on the hard drive. All that's needed is for students to change the filename slightly when downloading — they just need to add "v#" at the end.

What's handy about this is that Google Documents preserves comments as well as text when it exports files. That makes it very easy to use the "compare documents" feature in OpenOffice or in Microsoft Word to see how a document has changed between revisions, and the ways in which students have responded to comments on their work.

You can read the full descripti0n of ProfHacker's fix, complete with helpful screen-shots, here.


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