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Collaborative revision using Google Docs

Last June I was both honoured and amazed to be awarded with the first ‘National Digital Learning Award’ in the post-16 category for the work my year 13 class had done with online collaborative revision. This year I’ve repeated the work, but also offered it as a tool to my year 11 students, many of whom joined me online last night to start work on a revision guide for their USA course.

Background

Having read about using wikis for collaborative revision, and never being brave enough to try it (there’s a big power and control issue you need to overcome here), in May 2012, finding myself with a couple of weeks left at the end of the A2 course, I set up a wiki spaces wiki for my year 13 class decamped to a computer room for a couple of lessons and they worked together to create a wiki guide to the course.

The feedback was positive, but the biggest problem was that individual pages couldn’t be edited by more than one person at a time. This was fine when they were working away from the classroom, but did cause problems in the computer rooms.

Fast forward a year and I wanted to revisit the idea, but also needed to find some time for some additional revision for my next year 13 class (this year having found time to have slipped away a little too quickly). Having talked through some options with them, we agreed that we would try some evening online revision, using Google Docs. I posted the syllabus and some bullet points in advance, and around half a dozen students and I spent an hour in the evening, one day per week, building up the revision guide.

The feedback was positive, both from those involved, and those who couldn’t make the agreed time, but still found it a useful resource. I added in a lunchtime session where we reviewed and edited the notes as a class, and another after school session to apply that knowledge to exam questions. I found it useful as I could keep an eye out for misconceptions and mistakes that crept in so that I could go back and reteach or clarify as needed.

It was this project that we won the award for. I nearly didn’t enter, as the competition was for resources, and my view was the fact that it wasn’t the final resource that made this interesting, but the process that we went through to get it. I said at the time that while people were welcome to take it, I would be starting again with a blank Google Doc again the following year.

And we did. This time I started a little earlier, and as well as weeks focussing on content we also tried collaboratively planning essays. As fewer students were able to attend after school sessions we also ran a follow up session on a Wednesday lunchtime in a computer room. The take up hasn’t been quite so high this year (perhaps less students felt they needed it, perhaps I’m finally teaching the course a bit better!), but those who did commented that they found it useful, and again a number of students have gone back and use the final set of notes as additional material for their personal revision.

So, after losing a couple of lessons with my yr 11s, we were looking for a way to make up some extra revision time. The school have provided us with a timetabled revision session, but as it’s the day before the exam, while I think it will be useful for a final focus on exam technique my view was that it was too late for addressing issues with content. So we agreed that we try a similar system to the one I used with my Yr 13s. Last night eight students logged on a various times to add both content and questions to out revision guide. I was able to go through and fix any misconceptions and answer questions, but when I had to leave for ten minutes to put one of the boys back to bed, I was delight to find that the session carried on happily without me. We’ve still got more of the course to add notes on, so I’ll offer a lunchtime / after school session for the rest of the year group as well as my class.

Want to do this too?

If you’re a school with Google Apps this is dead easy. Create a document (in my class I simply copied and pasted the syllabus overview) and give editing rights to everyone in your organisation who has the link. Pass the link on to the students (via email, Twitter, Edmodo, etc etc) and once they log in you can see who is making what edit. You also have the option of the chat feature if wanted.

If you’re not a Google Apps school but you’ve got a Google Account you could create the document and share it openly, giving all visitors editing rights. You won’t know who’s who, but the functionality will be the same.

If you don’t have a Google Account, you could create a wiki (as I did originally), although you’ll need to create lots of pages if you want people to access them at the same time.

Alternatively you could use an Etherpad style tool (for example https://etherpad.mozilla.org/ or http://primarypad.com/)

Dave Stacey

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