by Jorge Reyna, Educational Designer working with the Faculty of Science at Macquarie University
Why is collaboration important for learning?
Collaboration can be defined as a coordinated, synchronous activity that is the result of an ongoing attempt to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem (Alluri & Balasubramanian, 2006). It has also been identified as a necessary component of active learning. The benefits of collaboration include development of critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and discussion and consideration of ideas. Additionally, collaboration can help to understand cultural diversity and improve working with others. Social constructivist theory emphasises the importance of collaboration in the learning process. Learning is social and requires participation in a social process of knowledge construction (Kieser and Golden 2009).
The tools available to communicate or collaborate with others have changed over time. Ten years ago, if a group of students needed to work outside the classroom, they would organise meetings at the library or someone’s house. Today, technology offers alternative ways for students to work together in an online collaborative environment without the need to commute, saving time and money. One possible tool to support collaboration and freely available to Macquarie University staff and students is Google Drive.
What is Google Drive?
Google Drive is a free, web-based set of tools including word processor, spreadsheet, presentation tool, form creator, drawing tool, and document/media storage service offered by Google. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users. Google drive does not require installation and works in any popular browser/device.
What are the advantages of Google Drive?
- Students can work collaboratively in real-time.
- It works across platforms (Windows, Mac, iOS and Android).
- It is easy to upload and share files.
- Group members can chat with other collaborators while editing.
- It allows for exciting and engaging online peer collaboration and editing.
- It saves automatically every 10 seconds.
- Educators can monitor student work easily in real-time if required.
- It is easy to see which students have contributed through the revision history.
- It is easy to export documents in various formats (RTF, PDF, HTML, MS Word and OpenOffice).
- It can be used with EndNote and RefWorks, etc.
How can I use Google Drive in my unit?
Using Google Documents allows students to engage in collaborative writing and sharing their work to receive feedback from teachers and their peers. Documents have the smart spell checker and reference tool that helps students to improve their writing. Additionally, students can create links to citations with one click. Documents also allows group work and saves student’s time, as there is no need to commute to face-to-face meetings anymore.
Science students using Google Spreadsheets can share their lab results with their peers and to reflect on the results and different aspects of the experiments, reinforcing the theoretical concepts learnt in the classroom. Students on placements in different disciplines during semester break can benefit with Spreadsheets. They could share their experiences in real-time with the entire classroom or group and become reflective practitioners.
Engineering students could use Google drawing to work collaboratively on a sketch design and to share with their peers to seek feedback. This tool can be used also to brainstorm, for example; before starting an online group assignment, a topic could be split into different sections and allocated to group members.
Google Forms can be use with students to generate and share a database within the classroom. I have also seen Forms used as formative assessment in Science during lab tutorials to get a snapshot of student’s understanding of the topic.
Google Presentation is a neat tool to engage students to work collaboratively on a presentation as they can work in real-time on a PowerPoint with the ability to chat with their peers.
As you can see, Google Drive offers several tools to further engage your students in your unit but also give them more flexibility. This is highly desirable as many students have competing schedules with family, work and studies.
Where I can learn more about Google Drive?
Don’t know where to start? What considerations to take into account before using Google Drive? What possible issues Google Drive can bring? How to ensure students understand the task? You can learn more about Google Drive in our upcoming webinar Using Google Drive for collaboration to be held on 2 September 12:30-1pm.