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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

Tips for Navigating Online Collaboration in Google Doc

Think about the interface. The specific word processing software we use — the pen, paper, or keyboard — changes the nature of our writing. We write differently depending on our instrument, on whether we hold a keyboard in our lap on the couch or write with pen and paper while sitting upright at a desk. Before I write anything, Survey and experiment with your tools, to see how they influence your thinking and language. When you choose a tool, you are making a creative choice, and it’s important not to take that choice for granted.

Embrace chaos. There is something slightly crazy about a shared writing space, especially when there are more than 2 contributing authors. A Google Doc can seem to write itself, a new digital ecosphere that bubbles with lively and chaotic energy. Documents are frequently startled and then a writer leaves a Google Doc to realize that it will go on without them. If you haven’t collaborated within a Google Doc, start by choosing a low-stakes project and experiment. Don’t be surprised when weird and sometimes wondrous things begin to happen.

Carefully choose your writing partners. My first experience in a Google Doc was with someone I had only just met. It was less important that we had no experience of each other’s process and more important that we were both eager to try the experiment. In other words, don’t force anyone at gunpoint into a Google Doc.

Tailor your process. Most writers are used to working on their own. Respect your processes and approach the collaboration in a way that feels organic and natural. If it makes you nervous to have someone watching your words appear as they’re composed, take turns in the Google Doc, rather than writing synchronously. But don’t be afraid to take risks. Experiment and if something doesn’t work, change it.

Swap roles. Depending on the project, you can approach a collaborative-writing session as an editor or as a content producer. Authors can be most productive when working with individual(s) with whom they can effortlessly swap these and other roles.

Don’t be shy. One of the most powerful features of Google Docs is the ability to review the revision history of a document (File > See Revision History). If something drastic happens in the document, you can always go back and track changes or restore an earlier version. So, don’t be afraid to finish each other’s sentences and to fight cursors a bit as you’re working. Some of the best sentences I’ve written are only half mine, and I can’t always tell which half is mine.

Use the chat feature. Use the chat function for meta discussion about the process. How is the writing proceeding? What larger issues are you seeing? When will you need a break? When will your next writing session be?

Make reflective comments. Use the comments feature (Insert > Comment) to suggest substantive changes or to ask content-related questions; however, sometimes you may want to write these kinds of comments right in the document itself (and delete them after they’ve been seen). There are no rules or hierarchies regarding what sort of meta-commentary can go where.

Write with a deadline. There is much discussion underway about the gamification of learning. Set arbitrary parameters, like 1000 words in 1 hour, and raise the stakes: with my hypertext students, for example, I cheekily warned that I’d be tweeting a link to our co-written document once the hour was up.

Share. Google Docs aren’t, by their nature, designed to be private, so let others (beyond just your co-authors) into the process. Err on the side of giving viewers too much permission rather than not enough. If you give editing rights to contributors and they muck up your document, you can always use File > See Revision History to restore a previous version.

Some additional resources:
1. Document Sharing and Markup by Pete Rorabaugh
2. Google Drive Wants to Sync Your Stuff by Brian Croxall
3. Google Docs and Collaboration in the Classroom by George Williams
4. Experiments in Mass Collaboration by Pete Rorabaugh and Jesse Stommel

Source: Hybrid Pedagogy

One comment on “Tips for Navigating Online Collaboration in Google Doc

  1. Pingback: Word Wars: Google Docs vs Office Word | Sasi Science

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This entry was posted on June 27, 2013 by in Tip Jar and tagged , , , .

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