#TryThis! Using Google Drive for real-time in class team collaboration

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Note: Due to the news with Google link schemes, I got a little off track with my #TryThis! themed blog posts. Here is 1 of the other 2 I had planned.

Here is another great tool I love for engaging students in teamwork in the classroom – using Google Drive Documents (formerly Google Docs) for real-time classroom collaborative activities. Here’s what I mean. (Not familiar with Google Drive? Check out video below).

If you teach in a classroom where students have access to computers, Google Docs is a great tool to use for having students work on a common document in real-time. That’s because with Google Docs many people can work on a document at the same time, in real-time.

Here is a scenario in which I would use this cool tool.

Each team (3-5 students) gets a separate Google Doc that I created ahead of time and shared publicly so anyone can edit it (I’ll explain how to do that below).

In my social media class, I might give students a set of problems (questions) to solve. For example, maybe I am trying to teach about gathering social data through Hootsuite. I don’t want to just lecture them about how to do it. I want them to learn by doing. To stimulate that, I want them to work in a team to gather the data, and paste it into Google Docs so they can analyze it and look for any trends.

So, as a simple example let’s say there are 4 questions, one of which might be:

What are 5 examples where XYZ Company did not respond to a Tweet sent to them?

Students would look through their stream for Tweets @XYZcompany, find the 5 they  need and paste them into the document. Since everyone can see in real time what others are posting, it is easy for them to work as a team to answer the question. Alternatively, some teams tend to break up the work to answer all the questions more quickly. I don’t mind this. It saves class time (which is precious) and lets us get more quickly to the analysis and discussion of whatever topic we’re covering.

This is a simple example with a simple question, but you get the idea. The tool can be used for more involved questions. I like to use it to “gather evidence” that leads to a question(s) that involves analysis and decision-making.

Discussion and teamwork are encouraged by the real-time Google Doc set up.

In our simple example, perhaps students need to consider course content and then create their own responses to these Tweets. Since everyone doesn’t have to crowd around 1 computer in drafting their responses, it isn’t a situation where 1 person is “in charge” and everyone else can tune out. Students can also type in comments and interact on the document, like they do in their everyday interactions with others online.

After they are done, I can easily pull up their documents onto the screen (because I have their URLs), show them to the class, and give students the opportunity to explain their answers and the reasoning behind it. I can use this to encourage discussion, particularly if I compare their answers to another team’s.

How To Set Up Real-Time Google Docs for Team Success:

Log into Google Drive or create an account.

1) Create the docs and make sure they are set up so EVERYONE can edit them. Here’s how:

After creating the document, click “share” (upper right – it is a blue icon). Next, click “Change” next to the field asking who can do what with the document….:


Choose “Anyone with the link”. For Access, choose “Can Edit.” Click save.


2) Sharing the Document with Students – The URL for Google Docs is annoyingly long, not good for sharing. So use your favorite URL shortener to create uniform links for the assignment. I like Bitly but any works.

For example, if there are 4 teams and I set up the documents, each will have a URL something like:


That way, each team just types in the short link into their browser. Just note that Bitly links are case sensitive. I usually project these links on the board.

Students seem to struggle with going to the URL. But I have found consistent labeling works and they pick up on it after 2 or 3 Google Doc exercises.

3) Test it – go into your computer lab and make sure it is working. If too many people are on a document at once, it can sometimes freeze up. So open up the file on multiple computers and hop around from 1 to the other typing. Even with more than 4-5 people on the document, if your computers or Internet are slow this may not work for you.  (For me, most days I have no problems. But once in a while I do). Also, decide what browser you want students to use if there are multiple available on the computer. I found last year during a class that Google Docs worked in some browsers but not others and this confused students.

4) Test Copy and Paste Feature – If you want them to copy screen shots and paste them in the Doc, test that too. Different browsers work better with pasting images into Google Docs. I found Google Chrome unsurprisingly to work best.

5) Hold students accountable – what is the end result you are looking for with the activity? Technology for the sake of technology is not effective in the classroom. What do you want them to learn, to solve? Also, how are you going to grade them? Is this a participation assignment, and you are going to load their URLs after class for participation points? Truthfully, some students are only motivated by a grade, not the experience and outcomes of learning. So there are some students who won’t participate if they aren’t being held accountable. To try and curb this, I make activities worth participation points that add up over the semester. Or, I will have an activity today that builds up for an activity next class, the combination of which is a participation assignment. I also float around the room, look over shoulders, and ask questions or see if they have questions for me.

6) Expect a few hiccups – with any technology that is inevitable! But power through them! 🙂

7) Stick with it – Sometimes students aren’t as excited as we are to try new things. But once they learn how it is done and why, and you have some experience, things will flow smoothly.

That’s it! If you try this technique, have ideas for improving it, or have done something similar, I’d love to hear your experiences, advice, and thoughts!



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4 thoughts on “#TryThis! Using Google Drive for real-time in class team collaboration”

  1. I loved this post – it inspired me to write about my own experiences as a student. I wish more professors were using Google Drive, and I love the examples you provided, especially the point about crowding in front of one computer and other students zoning out. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Taylor! I loved your post on http://tech-book.tumblr.com/ – it gave me some ideas on how to improve the peer editing process in my writing class that I will have to implement! Also, I have thought about having students write all their assignments on Google Drive but hadn’t taken the plunge… but now you’ve got me giving the idea a second look!

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