Google Docs is a free web-based word processor and spreadsheet, which allows you to share and collaborate online.
If you were to ask an intermediate student to set up a Google Doc without ever telling him or her what it was, I think they could easily set up their own account in less than 3 minutes if they had a computer/laptop with internet access. They might do a Google search for it and easily follow the steps to set up their own account. If you're a teacher, I hope you're brave enough to do the same.
As a fifth grade teacher, I've set up Google accounts for my class because to be honest, it makes working on writing assignments so easy. First of all, if students are familiar with Word, then they can easily navigate through a Google Doc. A Google Doc is unique though, because you can not only observe the students OS (over the shoulder), but you can be invited into a document and view student work on your own computer. You can even add your own comments in real time. What's even better, is the fact that students no longer need to save their work to a floppy disc or a flash drive. They have access to their work anywhere there is internet access.
Watch this video to learn more about how this works, but while you're watching do so from a teacher perspective. Pretend the main character in the presentation is a disorganized student and you'll understand the benefits of this tool immediately.
I've observed a number of students using this tool independently. I've also observed kids who have shared their documents with other students, teachers and parents. Doing this makes working collaboratively, collaborative. The interaction between the student and the Google Doc and the other participants is unique, but there are some basic skills an evaluator/teacher must look for when gathering data on the success of the student. For one, can they touch type? If so, do they have the stamina to type an essay? If they are working collaboratively, does the student have the ability to comprehend the text of their peer, parent or teacher?
When I've interviewed students that use Google Documents, they have said that they like the application. It is an ideal tool to use for collaborative projects. Teachers I've interviewed state that they like the fact that they can help to edit work when students are both in and out of the classroom. Parents like the fact that they can also be invited into documents with the student and his or her teacher. What a classroom community!
In all, this FREE application is an ideal tool for all students, but especially for students that can type but have difficulty keeping track of their work on a network server or flash drive. They can easily access their work online at a PC or wireless laptop. If they have access to these tools in school, they can use Google Docs to take notes during lessons, to write a paper, or to work on a collaborative document or presentation with peers. Teachers invited into the documents can then help to edit work and/or make suggestions for improvement.
One problem with this instrument is that you need internet access in order to login into the Google Docs application.
Based on my own knowledge and experience with Google Docs, I find the tool invaluable. I especially like this tool because it fosters independence in the classroom and out. A student using Google Docs that needs help from a teacher in the room, only needs to create a signal for assistance and a private conversation can occur online rather than creating a auditory ruckus for the rest of the students in the class. It brings no attention to the student in need. I think this application is ideal for students in the intermediate grades through high school, because it is a tool that is easy and flexible. This is an assistive technology application that can be collaborative and meaningful for students as well as non-intrusive.