Chapter 4, Part 4

This is a continuation of the fourth chapter in Techniques for Effective Technlogy Integration. You may want to start with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Simple or Robust?

The features that make Etherpad simple to use and ideal in many situations sometimes are the same features that make it limited for more in depth collaboration. Sometimes, a more robust suite is better suited to a class setting. There is always a trade off, though, that must be taken into account when designing instruction. The more features offered in a product, the higher the learning curve of that product.

Google Docs (http://docs.google.com) is a free online office suite that is extremely well-suited to instructional settings. It offers a word processor, a spreadsheet editor, a presentation maker, similar to PowerPoint, an application to make interactive forms, and a drawing application. The entire suite is built around making documents and projects easy to share, collaborate, and publish.

Google’s Document editor itself is quite easy to use. Compared to Etherpad, Google’s Document Editor has similar real-time sharing (so multiple people could be writing simultaneously and see each other’s work) and a similar chat window to help facilitate working together. Google has some more advanced features though:

  • Fine-tuned privacy control – You control exactly who has access to the document as well as what permissions they have. They can have read-only access, so that they cannot change anything, or they can have access to edit as a collaborator.
  • Better revision history – You are able to look at and compare many different drafts. Google Docs color codes the differences to make comparing the drafts easy.
  • Excellent publishing options – You can publish any document publicly (so search engines can find it) or privately (anyone that you give the link to will have access). You can even embed your document into a class website. ‘
  • There are helpful document templates to help students get started with specific types of documents. An example could be a calendar template or a budget planning template.
  • A dashboard with folders to keep documents organized and easily accessible.

None of the advanced features are, in themselves, difficult to learn. However, the fact that there are so many features is something that must be taken into account when you plan the lesson. How vital are the advanced features to the lesson that you have planned? For example, if I am doing a simple science lab that will take 1 day to complete and another day to discuss, I may have the groups use Etherpad so that they can collectively record and compare their observations. This will also help them to crystallize their thoughts for the class discussion. Etherpad seems like a good option in this scenario. Now, if I were going a more complicated lab that would take several days as part of a larger unit, I might have the groups fill out their lab reports in Google Docs. It is easy to create groups in Google Docs and to share the lab reports with the teacher so that I can observe their thought processes as they occur. In addition, they will have their lab reports organized in Google Docs so that they have access to them later when they need them. Since this is a more in-depth activity that is important to the whole unit, as opposed to an activity designed to help students understand a single-point, I would be comfortable spending the time helping the students to get comfortable with Google Docs.

Again, Google Docs is not overly complicated. It just seems so when juxtaposed next to Etherpad, which is designed to be used without needed much, if any, instruction. Once students are comfortable with Google Docs, they may need help with small, specific things, as they would with any project, but they will not need to be retrained on it completely again. Students age, how comfortable they are with technology, and the needs and time constraints of the lesson must all be taken into account when planning a lesson.

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