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Class Collaboration in Editing: Google Docs/Eterpad (Open source editors)

by Elizabeth Killingbeck | 25 Nov 2013
Resource Description: When working with students on a particular function/competency in English, using an open source online editor like Google Docs or Etherpad with a class allows students to collaborate on recognizing errors or patterns by reviewing their own writing together as a whole class.

In a classroom that has a projector and classroom computers, students are able to access a single document which they can edit together. The document is live, and any changes made will be visible to all. Whether using an assignment that students work on together, or simply revising writing errors, open source editors are a great review tool.

For classes that only have a projector and without individual computers for students, activities can be modified to be done as homework, as long as students have access to internet access at home, and then reviewed in class. See my "changes" section of activity instructions.

For classes with no projector, and no class computers, the assignment can be done as homework, as long as students have access to internet access at home. See my "changes" section of activity instructions.
Audience: Adult, Secondary, Teacher Training, University
Audience Language Proficiency: Advanced, Intermediate
Duration: 40 minutes (varies by class size)
Materials and Technology:
  • Examples of student errors from essays or homework
  • Computer with Class Projector connection (with internet)
  • Student access to computers/internet (activity can be modified if this is unavailable)
  • Link to an *empty document from an open source online editor (ie: Google Docs or Etherpad) accessible to all students (this might be via an email sent to students or learning management system like Blackboard or Canvas)
  • **Examples of student writing from homework or essays
*This activity could be modified to review a particular homework assignment, in which case, the homework assignment should be uploaded to the open source online editor document
**Student writing is only one way to do a review

Note: My examples are for advanced students. This assignment could be modified for different levels.
Objective(s): Objectives can vary widely depending on what the class is reviewing. I use this activity with my university students who are learning how to improve their academic English. We work on specific skills for particular writing genres. For example when working on narrative/descriptive writing, the objectives are:

  • students will have an opportunity to review their previous knowledge of how adjectives and adverbs are used
  • students will be challenged to provide details following adjectives to create a more clear, vivid image
  • students will be challenged to identify what "passive" verbs are and then provide an "active" alternative 
  • students will be challenged to avoid sentence structures like: "The reason is because..."
  • Students will be challenged to use dependent clauses as transitions
  • Students will become more familiar with the peer review process
If using this as a tool to review student writing (with any material that is being covered), students are able to practice how to edit writing, with guidance from their instructor and collaboration from their group mates and class.
  • Students will feel more confident in reviewing their own essays and their partner's essays for particular class writing objectives.
  • Students collaboration will allow for problematizing, which improves students' meta-knowledge of specific language functions
  • (Narrative example): Students will have a concrete understanding of how simple use of details with adjectives, active verbs and adverbs effect the emotion and imagery in description
  • (Narrative example): Students will have a concrete understanding of how to form "academic transitions" by looking for key words that signal a dependent clause, which can be used as a transition
Activity Description: Prep before class (15 mins..looking through files for student writing to use might increase this time):
  1. Decide which sentences/paragraph or essay written by a student you plan on using for the class. Instead, you could develop an assignment that you want everyone to work on collectively.
  2. Google Doc/Etherpad document should be established (if you are having them work on an assignment, then copy/paste the original or type it up in the Open document. If you are working with student writing, select sentences, paragraphs or even essays writen by students. Copy/paste their work onto the Open document.)
  3. Make sure to "share" the file in google document so that "anyone with a link" can "edit" the file (see the link below).
  4. If using an LMS like Blackboard, upload the link. If not, drafting an email with students emails pre-set might be a way around this. Save it as a draft, until class begins, when students can then access the email in class.
  5. If using an LMS, upload any other documents the students might need to complete the assignment. Otherwise, make sure the students have whatever handouts they will need printed (see some of my handouts below).
In Class (30 - 40 minutes...or more-- varies on class size and level of difficulty students find the assignment to be, or number of sentences assigned to each group):

After reviewing (or introducing) the course material (in my example a review of dependent clauses, adjectives, adverbs and active verbs):
  1. Break class into groups of 2 or 3 (or whatever suits your class), allowing them to move and then wait before signing on to their computers.
  2. Demonstrate, using the computer/projector connection, how to access the link.
  3. Ask students to find the link on their computers
  4. Once students access the link, they will be able to type on the document, which the whole class will be able to see on the screen. This can get a bit out of hand, so to increase responsibility, at step 2, or in a previous class, you could ask students to create gmail accounts specific for class use.
  5. Assign sections of student writing to different groups.
  6. Explain the instructions of the assignment for each group to clearly understand their goals.
  7. Allow students to edit the open doc. If you find it disconcerting to have so many people typing in one document, you might change "Prep" instructions 1 and 2 to create copies of the document and then making them all available on LMS, but assigning different copies to different groups. (This just reduces the amount of movement on the is not necessary, but it might be preferred).
  8. After groups have finished, allow each group to present the "old" sentence and the "new" sentence. Ask students to explain their "new" sentence and why they made the changes they did.
  9. After all groups have gone, the students now have a study guide or a review to help them as they begin their essays or next assignments. They can see examples of the exact type of writing mistakes they have made or would make, and as a class have analyzed the errors and collaborated on making improvements. Students can problematize as a class, when incorrect changes are made, or when a group has trouble.

Classes without individual computer access or without a projector, might follow the same prep, but change in these ways:
  1. Create individual documents for different groups.
  2. Groups are able to work on sentences/assignment from home (they do not have to be in the same place)
  3. Instructors can download student work, make necessary copies to distribute in class
  4. OR: students can be responsible for their work, and present the old sentences with the new in front of the class
  5. In both cases, students will still be able to collaborate, and they experience the process of editing

Useful Links:
  • How to set up a Google Doc and make it editable by a specific group of people (with a link): Google Doc Editable
  • My English Preparedness Class' Google Doc (complete with goofy hearts and all that come with editing an open source document, as a class, with a projector, when students are anonymous): EPP Google Doc (Yes, it's still live..anyone with a link can edit it!). In the event that the link changes drastically, to see the original Google doc, I have attached it below as  PDF: 110.02InClassImprovingVitality
  • Before working on student writing, students had a mini activity with an open document and dependent clauses. This is an example of a "handout" I made editable: Dependent Clause and Gerund Ex. Open Doc
  • I have also attached handouts that go along with this activity. They are taught/introduced before the Editing activity: Dependent Clause and Gerund Examples  & Personal Narrative details for...
Uploaded Files:
TESOL Interest Section: Computer-Assisted Language Learning