Friday, May 27, 2011

Google Docs

                As I sit thinking about education, online courses, and location, I wonder about the “make up” of online classes. Who is enrolled? Where are the learners located?  How old are they? What cultural values do they have? What languages do they speak?  How will the instructor facilitate learning with an online course consisting of diverse students from all over the world? What kind of “work” can students do collaboratively? What are the parameters for collaborative work? So many questions enter my mind. However, I do not have time to write a novel (at least not yet).  Therefore, I will focus on one problem and hopefully provide some insight in how to solve the problem. Perhaps, once you are done reading, it will make you reflect and think about how you would solve this problem. Would you offer other solutions different from mine? If so, please comment and let me know what you would do and how it would effectively address the problem. I look forward to hearing your solutions…

For many adult learners like you, online courses are a necessity if you want to continue in your educational studies or stay up-to-date in your field of practice.  As part of your studies, collaborative group projects are part of the required tasks and grade. However, with your peers possibly being from all areas of the world, you might wonder how a group could collaborate and complete a group project states or countries apart? What are the implications of collaborating online with partners from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and/or experiences when the face-to-face aspect isn't feasible?

Educational Technology to Address Issue:

          One way you can address this collaboration problem is to use Google Docs with your partners that are scattered worldwide. Have you ever heard of Google Docs?  What do you know about it? Google Docs is an e-tool that will help you collaborate, construct/create, discuss, comment, and provide feedback on new material for your group project without having to leave home. The only necessities you would need would be to have a gmail account, which is free to setup, and a device with internet access and a keypad. To learn more, click HERE.
 Learning Theories that support GoogleDocs as a valid e-tool for collaborative projects:

         You may or may not realize that Google Docs can be validated and supported by several learning theories. Reflective practice, andragogy, and constructivism are learning theories in which Google Docs can defend. In terms of reflective practice, Google Docs allows you to continuously edit, contemplate, and review your work and others within the group. Saved versions of the group’s work allows you and other group members to retrace your steps in the collaborative process. This can lead to reflection and analysis of the work. The chat box provides an opportunity for you and others within the group to ask questions and to ask for explanations/clarifications as to why a member did or wrote something a certain way.  From there, this leads to personal reflection, analysis and critical thinking of your work, others’ work, and what could have been differently to achieve different outcomes for your group project.
In a different light, your culturally diverse group might lead to more "formal" discussions. Statements and responses will have to be interpreted and reflected upon due to the lack of facial expressions providing visual clues as to how to “read” the meaning. In addition, language or cultural barriers will promote reflection on the collaborative process-what you think went well, what didn't, and what to improve.
        Through the lens of Andragogy, Google Docs allows you to bring your life experiences to the collaborative work space. The collaborative project will reflect your life experiences in your contribution to the project.  The end product will each have everyone’s personal spin on it that will make the project unique. Personal connections, emotions, motivation, and your backgrounds will play a large role in the semantics and creation of the collaborative project. High movitation and personal connections can leads to increased work and understanding. Emotions displayed by you or others can be a positive or negative influence in discussions and the final project. Cultural differences will also play a role in how one uses google docs’ features. (Will you be formal/informal in your collaborative approach? Will certain tasks/options be unfamiliar due to your cultural background?)

           “Learn by doing” is put into practice, which is a part of constructivism/social constructivism. As more users spend time in Google docs, the more familiar and elaborate the functions, use, and end product will be. Watching and seeing other group members use different tasks and elements within Google docs (in real time) will help the individual learn new ways to use this e-tool and make the project more effective and successful. You can also learn more about the content of the project through your interactions with others within the group. Going beyond the project itself, interactions on Google Docs with the others in the group will influence your learning in one form or another.

Cultural, Social, and Personal Values that Will Impact Google Docs and Its Use
                   Going beyond what Google Docs is and how it is useful to solving the learning problem, the users-you and your collaborative team/project members, are an important aspect to keep in mind. You and your peers can bring things to this collaborative platform that can be beneficial or harmful in the creative process.
                  While Google Docs is a valid and useful e-tool to solving your problem, there are benefits and drawbacks that are unique to each collaborative group. (Keep in mind that some of these benefits may also be a drawback depending on the individuals in your collaborative group.) One benefit of Google Docs is that it provides a platform for you to interact, share, and discuss with your (culturally-diverse) peers.  Questions, responses, comments, praise, and constructive criticism can be thought through, allowing for analysis and reflection, before posting. Cultural differences are important to keep in mind. The text chatting option allows time for you to “think before you speak.” Another benefit is that through the text chatting, work space, and comment options, your knowledge that you have gained through life experiences springs into the collaboration process. Your expertise in a certain area can shine through the text you create. In addition, you don’t have to be “tech savvy” in order to collaborate and use Google Docs. This can be motivating and freeing to those who aren’t familiar with Google Docs.  Motivation can also be a benefit due to the fact that your peers’ work is shown in real-time. To see work being completed and discussions flow through the text chats, can be visually moving and motivating for you. Last, emotion can play a big role in how you interact, collaborate, and create. Emotions can be beneficial as it can drive you to do your best and can help with being sincere, up-front, and honest with your peers.
                  In the same respect, emotions can also be a drawback and prevent motivation or cooperation, depending on the content and the person. It is also easy to forget that your peers are culturally different than you and may take things personally, or in a different context than what you actually mean.  This may lead to problems within your collaborative group. Language may be another barrier or drawback.  How are you to interact online with a peer that isn’t fluent in your native language? This can lead to confusion, a breakdown in understanding, and prevent the creative process from being effective. Another drawback could be that one or several within the group could have technical difficulties, which in turn, can lead to problems with collaborating, creating and/or finishing the project.  All of these benefits and drawbacks don’t necessarily have to do with Google Docs, but they are valid points to bring up as it may lead to positive or negative perceptions of Google Docs.
What Can Make Google Docs Better? 
                    For the ultimate collaborative experience within Google Docs, there are few things that could be added to its structure and design. Adding a feature for microphones and video would be great for the times when everyone is working synchronously. This could take place on the side, where the chat box is located. Hearing a group member’s voice and seeing his/her face while he/she talks will help you interpret what that person is trying to get across. This setup is more realistic and resembles face-to-face conversations. The guesswork of trying to interpret what your group members are saying will be much less complicated with voice intonation/inflections being heard and facial expressions being seen. Ideally, a language text interpreter within Google Docs could make the collaborative process even easier so that members within a group would not have to worry about typing their thoughts in an unfamiliar language- Google Docs would translate it for you. Default settings could be established to ascertain what language is preferred. Obviously, this would not work with the video or voice suggestion intact.
          Overall, Google Docs can help solve collaborative projects when members of your group are scattered geographically across the globe. Members of your group can meet on this online collaborative tool to construct unique projects, presentations, forms, drawings, and spreadsheets. In addition to creating new projects, the text chatting options, user-friendliness of the tool, and real-time visuals make this an excellent tool to work with your peers and fostering an effective platform for discussions. There are pros and cons with using Google Docs that may lie within the social constructs of the collaborative group and not with Google Docs itself. Additions to Google Docs could make this collaborative tool even better if microphones, cameras, and language interpreters would be established. 

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