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Using Google Docs to Improve Group Projects

Do your student group projects always work out as you intended? Unfortunately, as many students will tell you, group projects rarely live up to their potential. I believe that one of the main reasons that group projects fall flat is that many educators do not take an active role in managing the group project from start to finish. This is not necessarily from a lack of want but rather from not having access to the tools that make managing group projects more efficient.

Most group projects start with the best of intentions. Typically, the educator will check in weekly with the groups to assess their progress, whether they have specific questions or have group dynamic issues. The problem is that these weekly check-ins rarely provide the full picture of how things are really going with the project. For example, how does the educator know how much progress has been made to date or whether all of the group members have contributed equally? Further, traditional tools like Word make it difficult for teams to seek clarification from the educator about specific issues they may have outside of the classroom.

Fortunately, Google’s cloud-based collaboration tools, which include Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms, address many of these issues and provide educators with a much greater ability to efficiently manage group projects from start to finish. One of the biggest advantages of requiring students to use these tools is that it gives the educator greater visibility into each group’s progress from start to finish. Using a specific app, which I will detail later, an educator can monitor wordcount and number of revisions made for each team from a very simple dashboard within Google Sheets. When students know that you have this level of visibility into their work, they tend to be more productive at the beginning and middle part of the project.

Pro tip: At the start of class in the week following a group project being issued, call out all groups who have not started working. Show students weekly that you are engaged and actively tracking their progress.  

Comments are the heart of the collaborative feature in Google Docs. Google Docs has a quick way to tag persons individually so that they are notified about any comments you make on a document. All you need to do is highlight a section or click in the document and choose ‘comment’ from the Insert drop-down menu. In the comment box, type an @ or + sign, then start typing the name of the person you want to notify. The person will receive an email notification with a link that takes them right to the specific comment. This is an excellent way for students to ask their group members or the educator a question or ask for clarification. There is also a chat option in Google Docs that students can use to conduct a virtual team meeting.

Google Docs also has an easy to access version history. One of the ways an educator can use this functionality is to see the contribution for each of the team members. This usually ends all debate about who or who did not do a piece of work. If the educator uses some methodology like peer assessment to determine individual grades from an overall group score, then the revision history can act as the supporting evidence in the case of an appeal.

If you’d like to use Google’s cloud-based collaboration tools for your assessments, the tool that I highly recommend for document management is  Doctopus.

Doctopus gives teachers the ability to mass-copy and share an assignment from a starter Google Drive template to all students or groups. Once the assignment is shared, Doctopus enables the teacher to monitor student progress, manage grading, and provide feedback for student projects.

The tentacles of Doctopus copy and “hand out” Google Drive files to a roster of students, giving teachers full control over the starter template, sharing configuration, folder organization, and file naming. Doctopus provides visibility over all work in progress, including the ability to bulk revoke or revert student editing rights based on submission deadlines.  Finally, the Doctopus dashboard can display word count, revision, and comment counts on all documents to which a student has contributed.

Using Google Docs with Doctopus for your assessments will let you take an active role in managing group work from start to finish. Once you are able to actively manage the process, you will see much better outcomes and have happier students.

Related article: Google Docs Hacks — 12 Tips For Collaborating Like A Pro

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