Rachel & Jessica

Google Docs – Introduction

Google Docs are free online spreadsheets, documents or presentations that can be accessed online. This innovation’s unique feature is the way it allows users to collaborate on one single document. Depending on the creator’s wishes, documents can be accessed, viewed or edited by peers and colleagues. The following video explains this concept simply:

Video Google Docs in Plain English, 2007.

Brief History

Google Docs are a very recent innovation. They became available for the general public in February 2007. Before this, Writely, developed by Upstartle, had been the primary source of web-based word processing. They provided primitive features compared with Google Docs: writely_pic.jpgcollaborative editing suite, menus, keyboard shortcuts, and dialogue boxes (similar to MS Word).
In March 2006 Google bought Upstartle, a small four-employee driven software company. When spreadsheets had been added to the Writely system, it was test-driven by both Writely and Google users. Google adapted the system to include the previously developed Google Spreadsheets.

Since February 2007, more changes have been made to Google Docs; the front page layout, presentation ability, and more detailed editing features. (Wikipedia, 2008).

Key Features

Providing you have already set up a Google account, you can view, create or edit Google Documents. They are stored similarly to your email inbox. But, they have more features than an email. With emails, you can send one attachment and get multiple edits from different emails. Collating these edits can be a nightmare. If, however, you have one document which is edited by many people, you can save time.

Some key features of Google Documents:collaborate_GDs.jpg

· Choose who you want to share documents with
· Create your own document
· Upload an existing document
· Edit and Upload your document at the same time as others
· Access/ Edit your documents from any PC
· Automatic saving provides a safe way to store work
· Ability to organize your documents
· You can publish your work as a website
· Control who can see your pages
· Link your document to your blog

Educational Value

Google Docs are a great way to assess collaborative learning through Literacy. You can use Google Docs for a variety of learning experiences; creative writing, editing skills, book reports, research papers, movie reviews, debates, collaborative essays, presentations, data entry, journalism, newspapers, magazines, tests, poetry portfolios, etc.

Advantages for teachers:

> makes peer collaborating exciting and fun
> saves automatically (eliminates excuses)
> easy access from any computer
> teacher can monitor student work easily (teacher can check if students are contributing)
> teacher/ students can view revision history (teacher can check if/ when students are participating)
> teachers can offer assistance in the form of comments and suggestions.

Here's a video highlighting Google Docs use in the classroom. It's educational value is measured by teaching staff and students from Californian and New York Middle Schools:

Teachers and Principals talk about Google Docs, 2008.

Some educators use Google Docs for presentations, marking work, attendance records, assessment records, etc.
Google Docs also reduce the paperwork when marking. Teachers who use Google Docs for marking can easily access folders, write comments on work and ‘hand work back’.

(Google, 2008).

Future Learning

Google Docs is a free innovation that can be accessed through your Google account. “There's no software to download, and all your work is stored safely online and can be accessed from any computer.” (Google, 2008). There are no hidden costs for schools and all support is offered online for FREE! It's an innovation that is continually updated. Requests/ comments and feedback are appreciated through the Google site. Students who already know how to use word processors will find it easy to use. The easiest way to find out more about Google Docs is to create one for yourself.

Here's how:

> Log in to your Google account.
>Open the Google Docs application.

To create a new document: Click on New > then choose the document you would like to use.
To upload an already existing document: Click on New > Upload a presentation > then find your saved presentation.
To use a template: Click on New > From Template…

Google Docs Tutorial

Links to Learning Theorists
According to Lev Vygotsky the two primary means of learning occur through social interaction and language (Clabaugh, 2007). Google Docs cater for both of these learning aspects. Children are engaged through social interaction (i.e. they share ideas, collaborate effectively, break documents into sections, learn how to apply their knowledge to the constraints of Google Docs). They also learn through language. Language is the primary focus of Google Docs, in particularly the ability to articulate and communicate effectively. As discussed earlier, language is the central use for Google Docs in the classroom.
Another aspect of Lev Vygotsky's theory includes his "Zone of Proximal Development". This can also relate to Google Docs. Students who already have previous experiences with word processors can expand and build on their knowledge. New ideas such as being able to collaborate on a single document with many people is a difficult concept to grasp.

Another aspect of Google Docs is that they can be motivational and fun learning experiences. (But it is up to the teachers and students to make sure this happens.). Kohlberg's Seven Stages of Moral Development is based around children understanding Why they do something. Students should realise that they don't do assignments just because or because it is a punishment. There are reasons teachers set particular learning experiences and for students to be able to understand why they are learning about Google Docs would encourage moral development. i.e. Students should be able to understand clear objectives in learning experiences so learning isn't seen as a punishment (Crain, 1985).

Although Google Docs have a strong focus on group work and sharing, they also allow students an element of autonomy. As students must actively construct meaning from their experiences and adapt to their learning context; technology. Also, the ability to connect and understand with other's views. One of Piaget's key ideas is for students to discover through conversing, exchanging ideas, arguing with others one will realize that others view things differently (McDevitt & Ormrod, 2002).

Future Teaching

Teachers should always be mindful that innovations are great in an integrated learning environment, but the overuse or ineffective use can be counterproductive.

Here’s a list of advocates who effectively use Google Docs in their teaching, taken from Google, 2008:

"Many of my students use Google Docs when they are working in teams, both with essays and presentations. In some point of progress, the students invite me to join them and have a look at and give comments on their work. It helps me, as a teacher, to be able to participate in the process, not just see the final product. The students also appreciate that they can work without having to think about different software at home and at school."

Students appreciate the ability to collaborate online in their own time frame. Teachers as well as students appreciate the stronger accountability for individual effort on group projects. Google Docs enables teachers to observe the projects as they unfold, giving students feedback prior to the final outcome. Teachers are able to individually assess student participation and content using the revision tab on Google Docs to see how editing is proceeding and to encourage students as they work.

And the students aren't the only ones using Docs to collaborate. At one school, parent council meeting agendas and meeting outcomes are in Google Docs. Also department chair and staff meeting agendas have moved from paper to Docs encouraging staff leadership, collaboration, feedback and 24/7 access." - Cheryl Davis

For the first time I can EVER remember as a teacher - 100% of the students were engaged in the presentation and participated in the chat. The students were enthusiastic and offered insightful and appropriate comments. The students liked being able to add their input without interrupting the presentation. I will definitely use Google shared presentations again." - Colette Cassinelli

Here's a list of Support for Google Docs educators:


· Free.
· Easy to save.
· Can be shared with others.
· Easier than sending emails/ attachments back and forth.
· You can choose who you want to share your document with.
· Easily be sent to people in your Gmail account.
· Good collaborative system.
· Simple tools for editing.
· Won’t have problems ‘losing’ unsaved work.

· Can become over-used.
· Elements of freezing if too many people are using the same document.
· Hard for younger children to grasp the concept of sharing: students should be working on different sections.
· Some versions of MS Word can’t be uploaded as they aren’t supported.
· Toolbars aren’t as good as Microsoft Office 07.
· Inserting pictures creates problems.
· No audio (in Presentations)Wagner, 2008.


Crain, W. (1985). Theories of Development. Prentice-Hall. pp. 118-136.

Clabaugh, G. (2007). The Educational Theory of Lev Vygotsky: an analysis. Retrieved
October 27, 2008, from

Google Docs in Plain English. [Video]. (2007).
Retrieved October 21, 2008, from

Google (2008). Google For Educators: Classroom Activities. Retrieved
October 21, 2008, from,

McDevitt, T. & Ormrod, J. (2002). Child Development: Educating and working with Children and Adolescents. (2nd Ed.)
Columbus, Ohio: Pearson Education.

Wagner, M. (2008). Educational Technology and Life: Limits, Benefits and Questions.
Retrieved October 21, 2008, from

Wikipedia. (2008). Google Docs: History. Retrieved
October 21, 2008, from

Youtube (2008). Teachers and Principals talk about Google Docs. Retrieved
October 25, 2008, from