Collaborating with Students & Shared Google Folders

This semester, students in my course ARC 231: Interiors of Connecticut College, were tasked with working collaboratively and to find ways to effectively and efficiently share their progress with one another. From my initial course planning and development, I knew that this would be a challenge, especially considering that for the first two projects in the course, the class would be working with students in Andrea Wollensak’s course ART 208: Object and Environment.

Andrea and I applied for and received a DELI grant for iPads for every student in the two courses. While the iPads would help them create content, we envisioned them as a tool for collaboration. We decided early on that we would use Google Drive on the iPads to enable the students to share their work during the course of each project.

For each project, I set up shared folders for the project with subfolders for each group. As someone who uses a detailed file structure on my personal computer and also on Google Drive, I came to this course thinking that students would be able to develop ways to organize their files without instruction. A few weeks into the first project, I began to realize that many students were struggling to use Google Drive and were having trouble keeping track of different iterations of a given document or file. In talking with the students, it became clear that many of the students hadn’t really thought in-depth about how they organized their files. Even those students in my class who used an organizational system, used ones that were quite simple.

The shared Google Drive folder for my class
The shared Google Drive folder for my class

Once these challenges became apparent, I spent time in class for a discussion on how to use Google Drive and about best practices for naming and organizing files.  This was an extremely productive conversation and got the students to begin thinking about how they organize their work. By the time we began our third project in the course (in which my students were working collaboratively as a class with three sub-groups) they were all effectively using Google Drive and sharing their work.

The shared “Project 2” folder for my class with individual folders for each document
The shared “Project 2” folder for my class with individual folders for each document.

I have put together some Tips and Recommendations based on my experience this semester.

Tips and Recommendations

  • Don’t assume that students know how to use Google Drive. When we discussed using Google Drive before the project was underway, I asked if they knew how to use it and if they needed help, and the response I got, was “Yes, it’s easy. We’re good.”
  • Use a Shared Class Folder in Google Drive. Once you create a shared folder for you class, every document placed in the folder can be viewed by those that you have given access to.
  • Plan time in-class to discuss file naming and file structure. This is probably the biggest challenge, since students need this information in order to work effectively, but are also reluctant to let you know that they need help.  In a group project, it’s important to come up with a system for naming files and especially for naming files that have been edited and updated.  While Google Drive allows you to easily search for a file, you need to know the name of the file you are looking for. When working in a group with newly created content, it’s really challenging to find something if you don’t know what exactly you are looking for – having a folder as a repository can work much more effectively.
  • Keeping Everyone Accountable with a Google Document Log. Accountability is a common concern (and issue) for collaborative student projects. By the time the third project began, I created a “Project Log” and the students were required to make individual to do lists and update them at least once a week. I monitored this site consistently and it worked very well to make sure that each member of the sub-groups were pulling their weight.
  • Monitor the Shared Project Folders. I found it particularly important to monitor the shared project folders. While this didn’t occur on a daily basis, I consistently checked in to see who was doing what and when. If students weren’t keeping up with sharing their work, I would often send an email to encourage them to get more engaged.

There were some common problems that students had when we initially began using Google Drive and Shared Folders. I would recommend going over the following at the outset of a project with the entire class:

  • Signing into Google Drive. In order to track who edited a document, it’s important that everyone is signed into their Google account (and not listed as “Anonymous”).
  • Finding the Shared Folders and Locating Shared Files. Providing an overview of the folder structure can avoid confusion later.
  • Adding the Shared Folder to their own Google Drive. By right-clicking on a folder and choosing “Add to My Drive,” students were able to easily find the shared folder in their own Google Drive (this is much easier than searching the “Shared With Me” folder.)
  • Keeping Newly Added Files Organized. This was an ongoing concern and I would “clean-up” file names and organization on a weekly basis. (You could certainly assign a student to do this task).
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