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.  

Google into Moodle

About a year ago, I shifted my course syllabi to Google Docs as a strategy for more nimbly handling the inevitable hiccups and improvisational changes to scheduled meetings during the semester: snow days; opportunistic class visits by colleagues and other scholars; newly published research addressing course topics; etc..  As a result, any updates to syllabi are immediately available to students and other course participants.  You can read more about this here.

For similar reasons, I’ve since shifted to using Google Docs for all of my lab and other assignment instructions.  Whenever I correct a typo or tweak an assignment parameter, the changes are rendered in real time, and I don’t have to convert the doc into a PDF, upload to Moodle, and delete or replace the old version.  Fewer steps, fewer keystrokes, fewer headaches. Huzzah.

I might even consider shifting my courses entirely to Google Drive – for example, check out Ari Rotramel’s approach – but I’m a huge fan of Moodle’s online submission tools, gradebook, and quickmail features; I find all indispensable to my pursuit of less paperwork, less email, and a streamlined workflow during the semester.  But Google Drive and Moodle can happily play together.  Links to Google Docs, Sheets, and Maps are easily curated on Moodle with other course content and, when properly framed, all of these apps facilitate and enhance student collaborations in ways that are seldom afforded by other software.

Recently, in a moment of glorious nerdiness, I figured out how to take this simpatico relationship one step further, or how to display the contents of a Google Doc in Moodle.  My simple goal was to have my Google Doc syllabus display – not as a link but, rather, the actual contents – near the top of a course Moodle page.  In effect, the syllabus becomes the digital center of all digital content and workflow while retaining its autonomy as a document that can be shared with colleagues or added to a tenure or promotion file.

The path to embedding the Google Doc into Moodle is not overly complicated, but it does require a dive into various menu commands and a minor tweak to some HTML code provided by Google.  For those who take the plunge, here’s a brief video tutorial as well as some step-by-step instructions and notes:

  1. Open up your Google Doc in one tab of your browser and your course Moodle page in another.
  2. Make sure that your Google Doc is shared or, at minimum, viewable by anyone who has the link.
  3. In your Google Doc app, select “File” from the menu bar, and then select “Publish to the web”.  (Make sure you’re selecting from the menu in the Google Docs app and not the upper menu bar that belongs to your browser.)
  4. Click on the “Embed” tab in the window that opens and copy the link. If no code is displayed, press the blue “Publish” button. Copy the code, and then close this window with the “X” in the upper right.
  5. In Moodle, turn editing on, and then select “Edit topic” for one of the major topic sections of your Moodle page.
  6. You might name this section “Syllabus”.
  7. In the Summary box below, select the “<>” button which allows you to edit the HTML source code.
  8. Paste the code you copied from Google.  

Some tips and code for making more screen real estate, making the document editable in Moodle, and for loading up on bookmarked pages in the embedded Google Doc below.

Rubrics for efficiency and structure

*This post was written by Joyce Bennett and Rachel Black

Why use rubrics

We have been using rubrics for the new ConnCourse that we co-designed “Power and Inequality in a Globalized Word.” Joyce first taught the course in the fall of 2016, when she used rubrics for each of the writing assignments and the in-class presentations. She found the rubrics helpful in creating an even set of standards by which to evaluate each work, and it helped her tackle the daunting task of grading more than 50 assignments by streamlining the work, making my time grading more reasonable and focused. Additionally, using rubrics on Moodle allows the instructor to leave specific feedback next to each criteria, which we have found effective for getting students to understand how to improve their work. While it takes time to develop a rubric, the amount of time it saves during grading is well worth it.

How to use rubrics in Moodle

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to create a rubric on a Moodle assignment. Note that Moodle presumes students are submitting the assignment via Moodle. If you prefer paper copies of papers but want to provide digital feedback so that you and the student have access to the feedback, you can still create the rubric but simply ask students to hand in a hard copy of their paper.

  1. In your Moodle course site, but sure you have editing turned on. From there, add an assignment as you would any other assignment.  
  2. When creating the assignment, under “Grade,” look for “Grading Method.” In the drop-down menu, select “rubric.” Once you have arranged everything else you want for the assignment (if it is included in gradebook, feedback types, etc.), click “Save and display.”
  3. On the left hand side of the screen, scroll down to a toolbox called “Assignment administration.” From here, click on “Advanced grading.” A link called “Define Rubric” will appear just below it. Click on that link.
  4. On this page, you can either import a previous rubric by searching for the name of the previously used rubric, or you can create a new one by selecting “Define a new form.”
  5. If defining a new rubric, you will be able to “add criterion” and also “add levels.” Typically, we have found that having more levels of points available to students is better. We recommend having 5 levels for each criteria.

Once you have created your rubric, you can come back and edit it at any time. Be aware that students can see the rubric before they turn the assignment in, so you want to have given this some thought before students begin working on the assignment. Otherwise, you may want to hide the assignment until you are ready for students to consult the rubric.

A few pointers for creating and using rubrics

  • Suggest that students consult the rubric before handing in the assignment. This will help make expectations clear. In addition Rachel has suggested that student download the rubric and have a peer review their assignment using the criteria on the rubric.
  • Be sure that the rubric speaks to all elements of the assignment. The more you can break down your assessment, the more likely this will be helpful to students in understanding their strengths and weakness.
  • Be sure you have enough evaluations points. This is important because you can end up with very low or high grades if you do not add enough variation in points in each category. Keep the final tallies in mind when designing your rubric.
  • Remember that Moodle allows you to add additional comments at the end of the rubric. This is a good opportunity to further personalize feedback.

To each their own

As with any kind of grading, the use of rubrics is relatively personalized. Between the two of us, we each have preferences that work better for us. For example, Rachel likes to include rubric categories that focus on student development of specific skills related to writing and argumentation. She also likes to focus parts of the rubric on the integration of specific concepts related to course materials and discussion. Rachel finds that this helps students focus their work and develop skills that they will use beyond the one course. Joyce likes to take the assignment instructions and break them up into different components of the rubric. She prefers to leave rubrics a little bit flexible so that students can bring innovation and their own interests to the assignments, where appropriate. Joyce finds this approach helps students think about the components their work should include while also keeping them interested because they get to have their own input. It is important to consider your course and assignment objectives when creating your rubric. If you work your objectives into the rubric evaluation, you will be providing your students with a clear framework for what is expected of them.

Image credit: By Cleonard1973 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t Yuck Anyone’s Yum*: Using Google Drive and Moodle for Courses

venceslao_gennaio_castello_buonconsiglio_trento_c1400_detailIn 2017, many faculty use an online platform to provide their students with course content and engage with them in or outside of the classroom.  At Conn, we have two major ways to organize such work – Moodle and Google Drive.  As I started to use Google Drive to organize my work from job applications and budgets to collaborating on conference proposals with colleagues across the country, I was drawn to it as a potential course platform.  Its limits could serve my need for simplicity, and while there have been  updates to Google Docs or Forms, I was able to get my approach to using these tools locked down quickly.  For this post, I have been in conversation with colleagues to identify and share some key elements of Google Drive and Moodle, sharing what draws us to one option over another when considering 1) student communication, 2) organizing content, and 3) grading.

Student Communication
Online professor-student contact has become a regular part of class-related work, from updating students about an assignment or snowday plans to fielding questions about a reading.  Sending out messages efficiently is easily handled by Moodle’s quickmail function that sends a message to the entire class.  Working with Google requires more set-up initially, but provides further flexibility.  At the start of the semester, I set up a student e-mail list through Groups.  One cheat is to use the mail students function on Camelweb to grab the set of e-mails.  Once set up, I can have the ability to use Boomerang to send a message to students later or have a repeat message sent their way.  Other functions to explore on Moodle and Google Drive include chat functions, including chatting on a Google Document as students work through an assignment or collaborate on in-class research.

Organizing Content
With the advent of LMSs and websites, faculty now have the opportunity to organize course content in much more complex manner than a syllabus, texts or reader.  With Moodle’s sections, it is simple to create a readings section so students can easily find upcoming readings and download or print them easily.  With Google Drive, it is possible to move or copy a folder’s worth of readings for students to similarly access.  I appreciate the ability to link readings in my syllabus (a shared Google Doc) either to a reading in a Google Folder or to the library’s site to support the tracking of usage of our online journals.  tudents or I set up folders and documents for collaboration or individual work throughout the course.  

Grading
Moodle and Google offer distinctly different opportunities for grading-related work. Moodle’s Assignment activity includes the ability to create rubrics for grading and the gradebook has a wide array of grade calculation functions, it also has a marking guide that you can use to set categories and provide comments. I prefer using a paper rubric that I either upload from my desktop or edit online for paper assessment.  For exams, I create a spreadsheet rubric that I similarly edit and upload to my students’ folders.  These methods are more or less the same ones that I have used for ten years, allowing me to document and back up my grading process in case there are any points of contention.  Moreover, if I find that I am spending too much time staring at my computer screen, I can print out rubrics and/or papers and grade by hand easily.  For the semester’s-worth of grading, I keep a spreadsheet with an attendance page and a total grade page that simply calculates the percentages I have given to different assignments. The limitation of this approach is that students are not able to keep tabs on what grades and attendance have been recorded for them over the course of the semester through the platform. The Moodle gradebook and Attendance modules offer functionality for those faculty who prefer for their grade records to be more transparent to students, including attendance, rather than asking students to track and calculate the value of their own assignments. Through Google, a professor could also use a shared grading spreadsheet with students that is updated throughout the semester if they wanted to provide similar transparency.

Overall, both platforms have something to offer faculty seeking to streamline their online engagement with students. A final factor that has drawn me to Google Drive is that it has value for students embarking on internships or post-graduation jobs, as they will have at least navigated for a semester this platform and learned how to use some of its key components. Meanwhile, as Moodle is our College-wide Learning Management System (LMS), utilizing this platform ensures that students have more ease accessing all materials from the first day of classes.  

*I think it’s a beautiful edict, on par at least with the Golden Rule, and it simply means that no one in that safe space should attack or tear down what brings joy to someone else and which also doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Thank you for input from Diane Creede, Jessica McCullough, Anthony Graesch, and Lyndsay Bratton!

Using a Course Website to Recruit Incoming Students and Promote Community Engagement

CC Choir WebsiteI have the happy challenge of needing to communicate with students over the summer.  Most of them are incoming first-year students or transfer students who are trying to decide how they will spend their time at Connecticut College. This means quite a few questions regarding the types of choral ensembles that we offer, how often the ensembles meet, the types of literature we study, and audition requirements/times. During my first summer teaching at Connecticut College, this meant writing pretty much the same response over and over. I got into the habit of keeping several stock responses in a separate Word document so I could cut and paste the details. I am happy to say that I found a more efficient way to keep in contact with these incoming students!

I created a choir website in WordPress during the Tempel Summer Institute. For incoming students, it describes our choral program, the audition process, and a way to sign up for an audition slot via SignUpGenius. For the current students, it describes volunteer opportunities and how to contact the choir council. For the greater community, it contains information about participating in our high school choral festival, attending upcoming performances, bringing a choir to an event, and joining the Chorale (open to students, faculty, staff and community members.) For the greater community, there is a media page with YouTube videos and Livestream videos of past choral performances. I am currently working to build an audio portfolio that will feature audio clips via SoundCloud.

During the month of July, I have the email vacation autoresponder tell all incoming messages that I will get back to them shortly and to visit the choir website for more information about our program. My incoming students now have a better idea of the philosophy and scope of the choral program (and I get my month of July back). Prospective students can also visit this website to see what musical opportunities we have to offer before they apply. Lastly, this website is a storehouse of information regarding community engagement events that I can easily share via social media (Twitter, Facebook).  While time intensive in the beginning, a course website can help you communicate more effectively and also build a community presence. I highly recommend it!

September Teaching with Technology Productivity Workshops

The first two workshops in September focus on productivity. We will spend time organizing and developing new strategies to keep our email and Drive from overwhelming us, allowing us to focus on more important tasks. Registration is recommended (food is provided), but not necessary.  Please join us!

Take Control of Your Google Drive
Monday, September 12, 1:30 – 2:30 PM
Neff Lab, Shain Library 2nd Floor
Is your Google Drive driving you crazy? Confused about folders and sharing? Come to this workshop and spend one full hour organizing your Drive so that you can find important documents quickly and share things with others.  We will start with some brief instruction, but most of the hour will be dedicated to getting your Drive in order!
Register

Get Out of Your Inbox! Gmail Productivity
Thursday, September 22, 9:00 – 10:00 AM
Neff Lab, Shain Library 2nd Floor
Spending too much time in your Inbox?  Stressed out by unread email?  Ready to mount a resistance to email’s ever-increasing bid on your time?  In this session, we tackle best practices for emailing, and we discuss some strategies for making the most of gmail.  Come sip some coffee, munch on a bagel, and learn how to make gmail do the simple work, leaving you more time to be productive.
Register

Three Strategies for Reducing E-mail-Related Stress

Rows of mailboxes

In a recent Technology Fellows meeting, the conversation turned to the topic of e-mail.  Faculty in the room expressed frustration with the burden imposed by ever-increasing e-mail inboxes.  For many, messages from students, administrators, committees, and peers pile up and create a crowded inbox, with hundreds of unread or unfiled e-mails.  Here are a few strategies I use to help manage the e-mail burden.

  1. Bundle your e-mail. Bundling is simply the idea of grouping similar kinds of e-mails together to be dealt with at the same time. First, survey your inbox, quickly organizing your unread or skimmed messages into types (“bundles”). You can individualize your bundle structures:  Leo Garofolo uses a system that balances importance with urgency. I tend to group e-mails based on tasks, for example, answering all scheduling e-mails at once, or all student e-mails at the same time. Gmail’s Inbox can facilitate bundling, but it’s not yet available for Google educational software. Instead, you can set up your own e-mail folders (Scheduling, Students, Committee Work, etc.) and drag unread or skimmed e-mail into these folders. Open a folder when you have a few moments and process all of the e-mails in the folder together.
  2. Set expectations. Setting clear boundaries can limit the intrusive nature of e-mail.  This requires some consideration of your preferences. What would your ideal relationship with e-mail look like? When and how often would you like to check and process e-mail?  What kind of turn-around time is reasonable given daily demands on your time? What about weekends and scheduled breaks? Come to your own conclusions about the role of e-mail in your day. Consider stating these guidelines in your course syllabus to help students understand when they can expect you to respond to their messages (or suggest they take advantage of the liberal arts environment and come to office hours instead). Use an automatic responder during vacations or times of intense work to clearly communicate your e-mail practices.
  3. Schedule your e-mails with Boomerang. Scheduling your e-mail can help you adhere to your own e-mail best practices. If you have time to process e-mail outside of your normal e-mail hours but don’t want students to see that you’re sending messages at 2AM, you can write your response but use an e-mail scheduling app to deliver the e-mail at a later date. I use the free Gmail extension Boomerang.

Summer, with its decreased e-mail load, can be a great time to re-think your relationship with e-mail.  In the end, though, ProfHacker’s Natalie Houston may have the best advice for those overwhelmed with e-mail:  Ten Things to Do Instead of Checking E-mail.

Image credit: Got Mail??? flickr photo by katerha https://flickr.com/photos/katerha/7372776674 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Beyond Pencil and Paper: Audio Assignments Via Moodle

Image of microphone

My choir students expressed that they wanted to be assessed more often so that they would be more motivated to practice. At that time, I was having students sign up in small groups for “check in” meetings. While this was valuable, it was difficult to give individual feedback to all 40 students and could not logistically happen very week.

With the help of Jessica McCullough, we devised a way for my students to record short audio assignments and upload them to Moodle. One such assignment was an assessment of the pronunciation of Zulu song text. Jessica came into my class and demonstrated how to record and upload the files with their smartphones. (iPads are available to check out in the library if students do not have a phone or computer with audio recording capabilities.) The students could record the audio as many times as they liked before submitting their assignment, which encouraged deeper engagement in class and individual practicing. To help those who were struggling, choir tutors through the Academic Resource Center could help them prepare for the assignments.

With the Moodle interface, I was able to monitor which students turned in their assignments (as opposed to scrolling through emails with attachments), listen to the files without opening another audio application, and respond with typed comments (see Karen Gonzalez Rice’s post for making audio comments).

As a result of this “new” method, I could assess more often, get a clearer picture of how individual students were faring in my class,  and further refine my teaching to meet the diverse needs of the students. A variation of this assignment is having the students digitally videotape themselves individually or in groups. A video assignment provides a more complete picture of how my students are performing and it also gives visual confirmation of who is taking the test when it is a group assignment. While this post is regard to an assignment that I give in my choral classroom, it has potential applications in other academic settings in which students need to demonstrate their knowledge in ways beyond  traditional “paper and pencil” assignments.

Image credit: flickr photo by lincolnblues https://flickr.com/photos/lincolnblues/6262298600 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

From the Archives: Advising Week Tip

By request, I am reposting this information about using Appointment Slots for scheduling meetings with students. The post was originally published on November 9, 2014. Enjoy!

2014-11-07_0924
Because it is advising week, and because I had a request (thanks, Emily Morash!), this post is all about automating the process of setting up meeting times with students. I’m using the Appointment Slots feature in Google Calendar that is available to anyone with Google Apps for Education. Appointment slots allow you to create periods of time, “slots,” that you are available, share your appointment slot calendar with students, then students select the times that work best for them. This tool cuts down on monotonous and not terribly productive email communication to schedule meeting times, and it allows students to take responsibility for scheduling meetings with you. With all the time you will save, you may even be able to offer more meetings times!

I created two short (2min) videos showing how Appointment Slots work:

  1. Create the appointment slots in your regular Google calendar. Watch the video.
  2. Share the appointment slots with students and they sign up for a time. Watch the video.
  3. Appointments show up in your calendar and the student’s calendars as regular events.

There are many options for using this tool: office hours, advising, oral exams, small group work, research paper feedback, and more.

The Google documentation available here provides more step-by-step instructions if you prefer written instructions to a video. Let us know how this works for you!

Dish Up Your Syllabi with Google Docs

A couple years ago, I did away with the static PDF files and began presenting my syllabi as dynamic web pages on Moodle.  This approach allowed me to more efficiently update the parts of my courses that inevitably evolve during the semester, build in links to content on my Moodle course sites, and make a more cohesive set of online resources for my students.

And then I got a little friendlier with Google apps.  In general, I’m not a fan of web apps – I find working in browsers sometimes cumbersome – but I have to admit that Google has engineered some tools that really do make my life easier. Google Docs, in particular, is now my go-to app for all things course syllabi.

Screenshot as syllabus as a Google Doc
The Google Docs app features a convenient Outline for navigating your syllabus or assignment.

If you took my earlier advice (and even if you didn’t), here are five reasons to switch to using Google Docs for prepping and dishing your syllabi:

  1. Google Docs affords flexibility in updates, easy linking to assignments, and semester-to-semester reproducibility.  Inserting links to web resources, including other parts of your course Moodle site, is much easier in Docs than in the Moodle “page” feature.
  2. Google Docs will automatically make a table of contents for your syllabus.  How cool is that? (But you can turn it off, if you don’t think it’s cool.)
  3. Syllabi made in Google Docs are easily formatted and archivable for tenure and promotion review.
  4. Editing and formatting your syllabus in Google Doc is less complicated than the Moodle page feature.  (Many of your accumulated word processing skills are laterally transferable to the Google Doc environ.)
  5. Google Docs are easy to share with students and colleagues outside your course.  In contrast, it is often difficult and sometimes impossible to share Moodle content with folks who are not enrolled.

    Screenshot of sharing doc
    The shareable link to your Google Doc syllabus can be posted on your Moodle course site.

Next semester, try making your syllabus in a Google Doc.  Post the shareable link on your course Moodle page.  Let me know how it works out.