Google Docs in Higher Education

Google Docs in Higher Education

Jorge Reyna (Artminds Digital Media, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1936-4.ch008


It has been determined that students at the School of Education, University of Western Sydney (UWS) are widely spread throughout the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) region and that many have competing schedules due to being enrolled full-time in a course and having a full-time job (Martinez-Fernandez, Rerceretnam, & Sharp, 2006). This makes group assignments a time-consuming task, and in many cases, group work and collaboration does not occur in an optimal way. Recent research has discussed the case for wikis as collaborative learning tools in education, and some has explicitly focused on the use of wikis in completing group projects (Bold, 2006; Parker & Chao, 2007). However, the use of Google Docs in a tertiary educational setting remains largely unexplored in the literature; even though the collaborative features of wikis and Google Docs are relatively comparable. In this regard, the authors identified a potential use of Google Docs to improve group assignments, allowing the students to interact and collaborate online, thus enhancing their learning experience. They set up three different scenarios including nine lecturers (unit convenors and tutors) in order to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of including Google Docs within units taught at the School of Education. Preliminary data (collected over four consecutive semesters and featuring online survey responses of 963 students) showed a potential use of Google Docs to facilitate group assignments, to share information between students and academics, and to gather information via online surveys. The authors believe this powerful online application can be an excellent resource to overcome students’ isolation and engage them in online knowledge construction.
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Case Description

If we look in detail at the several online learning management systems available, we might conclude that their layout tends to be rigid and difficult to modify in the design process and, in many cases, confusing for users. They also do always not provide learners with tools to organize themselves, do not promote online collaboration, and therefore do not engage students in the learning process (Quinton, 2010). Collaboration can be defined as a coordinated, synchronous activity that is the result of an ongoing attempt to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem. It has also been identified as a necessary component of active learning (Reyna, 2010). The benefits of collaboration include development of critical thinking skills, discussion and consideration of ideas, and social skill development. Social constructivist theory emphasizes the importance of collaboration in the learning process. Learning is social and requires participation in a social process of knowledge construction (Kieser & Golden, 2009). Knowledge occurs through a web of interactions, and is distributed and mediated by people and the tools which they use for interacting (Kaplan, 2002).

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