Tag Archives: Green

Google Drive & the Paperless Research Essay!

Even though I am “techy,” I always espouse that it’s never technology all the time. In fact, my classroom is always a hybrid environment. As such, my students write traditional, robust research essays every year. This assignment requires that they engage in sophisticated academic research, build a thesis, and then structure an academic argument. For many of my students (I currently teach 10th grade US History), this is the first research and argumentative essay that they have written. It’s a challenging project. In conjunction with our new roll out of Google Apps for Education, I decided to make this year’s research essay a paperless endeavor. This met several academic and school-wide objectives – building Digital Fluency and digital literacy across curriculum as well as promoting Ransom Everglades’s Greening initiative.

All Work Must be Written Within Google Drive

One of the benefits of drive is that it allows you to import documents from other platforms (such as Microsoft Word) either by converting them to a Google Doc or

Screen Capture of "Revision History"

Screen Capture of “Revision History”

using Drive as Cloud storage. However, this would defeat my intention of better watching how my students’ essays developed. As such, I required that all work be created within Google Drive itself. Students were not permitted to import content from another tool or copy and paste from a word processed document.

I did this because I wanted to watch how my students’ writing evolved throughout the assignment using the “see revision history” tool. This feature allows you to see how the document progressed – when content was added, changed, or otherwise revised. It’s incredibly useful in long-term projects as it not only allows you to keep tabs on your students’ progress, but it allows you to see what changes they made (substantive and minor) throughout the project.

Break it into Steps

I believe that larger projects should be “chunked out” so that students work on the process – focusing on the necessary elements step by step rather than trying to throw everything together all at once. As such, students had to submit to me: A thesis statement, Annotated Bibliography, Detailed Outline, Rough Draft, and Final Draft all through Google Drive.

I explained to them my expectations on each of the assignments and showed them how I would view their process using the track changes feature. I believe in being transparent with my students – I let them know why this process was important.

Peer Review with Comments Rather than Changes

Highlight content and select "make a comment" button to leave comments.

Highlight content and select “make a comment” button to leave comments.

One of the biggest changes for students (and teachers) in revision is that you’re doing it on screen – this means you cannot circle and underline, rather you highlight and comment. Still, it lends to a different focus in the revision process. Some students like to correct spelling and grammar for their peers. However, I find that when developing writing skills, it is always better for the author to make the adjustments and changes themselves. A such, I instruct students that if they noticed a lot of typos, they should leave a comment directing their peer to proofread. If a phrase was awkward, they should leave a comment explaining why the phrase was problematic and suggest that the student rephrase it.

Providing Feedback to Students

One of the best features of Google Drive is that it allows me to leave student comments in a variety of ways. I wrote an article a little while back entitled “Google Drive: A Better Method for Giving Student Feedback.” It highlights the fact that by working in the cloud, students and I can engage in a conversation; the comment process is no longer static. Additionally, it provides both me and the student greater flexibility in the process. Another cool tool that works in conjunction with Google Drive is Kaizena, a cloud based app that allows you to leave voice comments on a student’s a paper.

Watching the Evolution of Writing

The best feature of Google Drive is that, using the track changes tool, I can view the evolution of a student’s work. Overall, the writing process is the most important element of the work. Even if a student’s final product is not up to par, I can look at how often they worked on it, what changes they made, how they addressed their peers’ and my critiques, and overall how their paper evolved over time. Additionally, it provides greater accountability for the students – they know that they cannot just throw the paper together at the last minute, as I can see when content is added.

Engaging in a paperless research essay was a new journey for both me and my students. While the change in context and kinesthetics at time was uncomfortable (I don’t always like reading on a screen and neither do many of my students), there were numerous benefits that outweighed those drawbacks. The primary benefit was that students could work on the project wherever they were – on any computer on campus, on their cell phones while riding the bus to a game, or at home making changes before they turned it in.

I know that my students and I both need to engage further with Drive to feel fully comfortable with this tool (we had to with Word as well, although the 1980’s and 1990’s may seem far away). Still, I’m excited to move forward with a more portable, flexible, and greener assignment.

Using your Tablet & Smartphone to go Paperless (or Less Paper-y)

As of late, I’ve been trying to use less paper and to encourage my students to do the same. I certainly have not become paperless, but I have eliminated a lot of my paper-useage. I would love to continue this trend and still am looking for some alternative options to go wholly paperless. I still collect some written homework, students still work with their hands, and I still find reading/editing on paper easier than digitally. Still, there are a few options for me.

Alternatives to “Hard Copy” Assignments

One, when possible, I ask students to post on the class blog as opposed to handing in an assignment. This is especially good for tasks that I would like them to share. This way, they can also easily add links, pictures, and even videos. It’s still not great for all assignments and requires internet access. Currently, my students do not have access to computers & the internet 100% of the time (we book computer lab time), so this generally requires some advanced planning (at least a few days). Also, a lot of my students do their homework on buses to/from extra-curricular activities (often not getting home until 9 or 10 pm). so, this is not always feasible. At my husband’s school, many students do not have computers at home.

However, I have found that this is a great activity so long as I plan ahead for the project. You can see some of my examples below:

Using Blogs in Class – AP Art History

First Week Using Class Blogs

Update on Blogging in Class

This is still a work in progress for me. I’m finding things that work and others that do not work. Plus, I have some students that are very excited about it and others not as thrilled about the technology aspect.

Another great tool for students to hand in assignments is DropBox. I personally don’t like it when students email me their assignments as its so easy for it to get lost in my inbox. Plus, 47 assignments labeled “homework” is not remotely helpful. If I have them do a hand-in via DropBox, then I require that they save it in a particular format, e.g. “Homework57.Last Name.doc”. I have noticed that I must deduct points if they don’t save it properly, otherwise I get 47 DropBox files all labeled “Homework”. With projects, I will even have designed folders, see these AP Art History Assignments:

This is also a great way for students to share their assignments with one another (something I like them to do in Art History).

If you’re not familiar with DropBox, I highly recommend checking out my article: “DropBox – An Excellent and Free Resource for Educators.”

Alternative to Paper Hand-Outs

In all of my classes, I supplement with primary source readings, activities, work-sheets, whatever I feel a particular lesson calls for. I’ve started to distribute these in advance electronically and encourage my students, whenever possible, to not print it up – rather to access it electronically. This is not feasible for everyone, but the 70% with Smart-Phones use them in class.

Again, DropBox is a great tool for this – especially as many of the files I distribute are too large for email. I like to save them in PDF (Portable Document Format), and then I put them right into our “Shared” DropBox folder.

To access these, students have a few options. They can use a free PDF Reader like Adobe and then download, open, and print to bring to class. If they have a Smart Phone or a Tablet, they can download the free DropBox Application, download, and read electronically in class. If they would like to take notes on their electronic copy, they will need an application like PDF Reader Pro or iAnnotate. These will allow the user to highlight, make notes, and more.

Avoiding the Copying Machine

Perhaps the greatest arena of waste of paper is the copier. I’ve made too many copies, not enough, photocopied the wrong thing, dealt with mis-feeds, and seen so much paper thrown in the trash. Likewise, I’ve seen my students make a few dozen copies and then promptly toss them in the trash.

One solution for copies in the library is to encourage students to use their Smart Phones to take photos instead of make copies. There are several applications that will do this, my favorite are Genius Scan – PDF Scanner. This application will allow you to take pictures and convert them to PDF. It is specifically designed for use on documents, so it will focus and improve resolution to enhance text. Additionally, you can upload to DropBox or Evernote, email it to yourself, or simply store it on your device.

There are a lot of other applications that do the same: DocScanner, ScannerPro, Document Scanner, and more.

Not only great for my students, but I can use them in lieu of the copy machine myself.

These are only a few of the tools that I’m using. I’d love to hear others.