Asynchronous Collaborations: Using Google Docs to Facilitate Working in Community

This semester Ariella Rotramel and I are engaging in community-based teaching and research. In order to work efficiently in our collaborations with community partners, we have both turned to Google Docs as an important tool. This post describes how each of us use use Google Docs in this work.

Joyce

IASC LogoMy course, ANT/LAS 431 Globalization, Transborderism, and Migration, is partnered with an organization I have a longstanding relationship with, the Immigration Advocacy and Support Center (IASC) in New London. Students are working on two projects: creating bilingual Know Your Rights materials for our local community and  interviewing immigrants that IASC has supported through the legal system. Students will write synopses with selected quotes for IASC’s newsletter to highlight success stories. The interviews also provide data that IASC can use in grant applications. Finally, these interviews will provide me with research materials for my long-term research project on the local migrant community and the non-profits they interact with.  

Google Docs has been essential to creating and editing the materials that are at the core of these projects. First, IASC members logged into Docs and commented on the course syllabus as it was being designed. IASC’s direct input into the syllabus follows best practice guidelines for community learning courses. Google Docs allowed IASC collaborators to comment and co-design at times that were convenient for them, enabling us to make progress without meeting in person. While in-person collaboration is key, many of the challenges our partnership faces is finding times to work together given that we exist in two rather distinct work-cultures: academia and nonprofit service sector. This kind of collaboration and co-designing never would have been possible without Google Docs technology.

Most recently, students have used Google Docs to create Know Your Rights materials for our local migrant community. Google Docs has allowed us as a group to share materials already created (such as materials from the ACLU). We were then able to adapt pre-existing materials to the needs of IASC. Collaborating on Google Docs allowed students to share the responsibilities of formatting issues, and it allowed IASC to comment on our work as we went along. That kind of valuable feedback saved us time, as IASC was able to guide our work effectively and quickly.  

Finally, students will be using Google Docs to share their interview transcripts and field notes. Students are completing interviews in pairs, which means using Google Docs facilitates their collaboration. More importantly is that using Google Docs is a convenient way for me to archive the data produced by this class from year to year. A word of caution: be sure to own all of the documents, because if students own the documents and graduate, one could lose access. Barring this particular issue, using Google Docs to archive the data has been convenient  because I cannot misplace it and, more importantly, IASC always has access to the Drive. This means they can access all the data our partnership has produced whenever they need it, which again, is in line with best-practices for community partnerships.

Ariella

Fresh LogoI have been engaged with FRESH New London over the past year as a volunteer and board member. As FRESH began to explore the possibility of a youth participatory research project (YPAR) to tell New London food stories (related to questions of access, inequality, and culture), it became clear that I could help develop this idea into a collaborative research project that would address FRESH’s goals and draw on my experience with community-based research. Over last fall, I worked with FRESH staff to develop an IRB for the initial stage of the project, mapping New London’s food resources using Google Maps. This semester we are working together with youth as co-researchers, meeting weekly to design, collect, analyze, and map information related to New London and food.

I used Google Docs to share initial academic articles on YPAR and food stories, and FRESH reciprocated by sharing existing grants and other materials. Together, we were able to mix in-person meetings with Google Doc work to develop the IRB proposal and all of the related documents. As we received feedback from each other and then the Connecticut College IRB committee, we used Google Doc to make changes, give comments, and  track this work easily through the “see revision history” function. After the project was initiated, we continue to use Google Docs to share materials including brainstorming notes, research links and PDFS, as well as using Google Spreadsheets to track  research findings.

Final Thoughts

Overall, using Google Docs for our community collaborations allows us to follow best practices for community engaged learning because it facilitates input from community partners and community partner’s access to the data we produce. If planned, using Google Docs can also cut down on the amount of coordinating and administrative work the instructor has to do in community learning courses, which can be a barrier to engaging in this important and fulfilling work.  

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