Thing 20 (Week 9) - Collaboration in the Cloud: Getting Started with Google Drive


One of the hallmarks of the new web is the idea of the Internet becoming not just a place we "go," but a place we "do," allowing users to perform "software" tasks (such as word processing and image editing) online, inside a web browser, often collaboratively. A great example of this trend is the development of Google Docs (now Google Drive), which allows users to create and share documents, spreadsheets and presentations online, for free. I expect many of you have already been using Google Docs before this course.

All of you have been using Google Docs since the day you began this course, by adding your info and marking off "Things" in the course spreadsheet. We have over 100 people all editing a single spreadsheet online.

Google Docs in Plain English from our friends at CommonCraft

This is a little bit dated (anyone see a pattern?), but still a great conceptual overview. If you are still emailing attachments and trying to manage "versions" of documents you will be excited....

What's all the fuss?

While it doesn't include every advanced feature of traditional desktop office software, Google Docs/Drive has many attractive features including some that traditional desktop software can't match. And they are always adding new features. Here are a few of the highlights.

  • It's free. Microsoft office costs a home user about $300, a student or teacher at least $100.
  • It's easy. If you are familiar with the basic toolbar functions in Word, Excel and Powerpoint, you should find Google Docs fairly intuitive to navigate..
  • Documents are stored online and accessible from any computer. There is only one copy of each document, and you can never lose it.
  • It's compatible with Microsoft Office (and other file formats), allowing importing/uploading of existing documents, spreadsheets and presentations, and downloading/exporting of files to edit in Microsoft Office.
  • It's collaborative. Share documents with other users (up to 200!) and edit them simultaneously! One useful classroom application would be for a teacher to give feedback on a student essay or paper within the Google doc, rather than on a printed version. Also great for peer-editing. Another is to create a "crowdsourced" book (or any sort of collaborative real-time effort), such as this one that one my colleagues and I contributed to a few weeks ago at a conference
  • It offers free file storage (15 GB across Drive, Gmail and Google+ Photos!). You can upload and share any type of file in Google Drive, not just "office" files.
  • It offers built-in revision history. Google saves every version of a document with a time stamp and username (like a wiki), allowing users to
    • Compare any two versions of a document, seeing exactly what has changed.
    • Know precisely which content was contributed by each user. (e.g. teachers can evaluate and track student contributions over time).
    • Easily revert to an old version at any time.
  • Chat feature: Users can discuss a file while working on it. Google presentations allows viewers to discuss the presentation while watching it online!
  • Instant forms: Create a survey, poll or other form and email it to selected respondents, or publish it to the web and send the link to desired participants. Results are instantly stored in a Google spreadsheet.
  • Many sharing and publishing options. Documents can be public or private (unshared); Spreadsheets and presentations are embeddable in other web pages (such as wikis).
  • It offers an "offline" app that will allow you to easily manage and sync your documents across all of your devices. (Not asking you to dig into that for this Thing, but good to know!)

Discovery Exercise: Explore Google Docs/Drive

Google Drive:

¤ NOTE: Google Drive tools work most seamlessly in Chrome.

¤ "SHARING" NOTE: The real power of Google Docs is collaboration among multiple editors.
You may want to begin a document and invite one or more of our course participants as collaborators (click the Share button and add their gmail address to send them an invitation) so that you can work on it together. A single collaborative document can "count" for each person's completion of this exercise, as long as everyone contributes to the document. This is especially powerful if you collaborate in real time (you will be able to see each other make edits, as in the Campaign Speech video above).

PART 1: (~20-30 minutes) Log into Gmail) and click Drive at the top of the screen. Create a new document. )Try to do this activity when you have a real purpose for creating a document). Practice using several formatting tools and features. As you explore, consider ways you might incorporate Google Docs into your classroom, professional and personal life. Especially consider how you might collaborate with colleagues and students using Google Docs. You might even co-create a document listing all the ideas you have for using Google Docs...

Things to try while exploring:

  • Format text - change font and font size, make text bold or italic, change font color, add bullets or numbers, change alignment.
  • Insert a picture from your computer or from a web URL (Insert menu) -- btw, Foreign Language teachers: the Insert menu also has a special characters feature!
  • Add a table and enter some text in the cells. (Table menu)
  • Add a link - Two ways: Simply copy and paste a URL into the document; Embed a link by highlighting some text and clicking link on the toolbar to paste the URL. Note the option to "open link in new window").
  • Insert a comment - (Highlight some text, then go to Insert menu > Comment)
  • After you have Saved your file several times, check out the Revision history (File > See revision history).

When you have finished exploring, SHARE your document with me, and anyone else you might want to share with. (While viewing your document, click the Share button and enter our gmail addresses where it says Add People, then click Send).

‡ HELP Videos (From the Google Docs YouTube Channel): - Getting Started With Google Docs

PART 2: (~20-30 minutes) Explore either the spreadsheet or presentation tools (or both if you are having fun). Begin a new file and see what you can "figure out." Again, think about how this tool might fit into your classroom, professional life, or for personal use -- especially collaborative uses. (Again, try to complete the PART 2 activity when you have a REAL need to use Microsoft Excel or Powerpoint).

PART 3: (~20-30 minutes) - Upload, Download and Forms
  • Upload one or more existing documents from your computer to Google Docs. See how they "look" when uploaded. (Upload button or File > Upload)
  • Download your Google document, spreadsheet or presentation in a format of choice (File > Download as...)
  • Check out a sample form. Complete this brief form I created using Google spreadsheets. (Instead of sending an email invitation, I simply linked it here). To create your own form select Create > Form from the Google Drive menu. Your form results will be stored automatically in a spreadsheet (you have to select whether you want a new spreadsheet or an existing one). Forms I have used at least a hundred forms with colleagues and students.

Write a blog post reflecting on your initial experience with Google Drive. Include at least three ideas for using Google Docs (and/or Spreadsheets, Forms, Drawings, Presentations) in classroom learning and/or professional learning/productivity. At least one idea should reflect a collaborative use. Please include "Thing 20" in your post title.