Electronic workshopping with google docs


In the past several years, I’ve tried many, many different workshop methodologies–the full class single-paper workshop one day, followed by small-group workshops the next; round-robin workshops; lightning critiques; the simple exchange/read/comment; send your draft to a peer through email and use Word to comment/merge; in-class electronic workshopping with a peer; in-class polishing at the computer lab, and more. The list seems to be endless, and it feels as though none of them have really worked. This term, I’m trying google docs. I don’t really know why I’d not tried it before for workshopping; I’ve used it for other kinds of collaborative writing, like class creation of course policies, group notetaking, and so on, but I’ve not tried it for workshopping per se.

Tonight, we’ll see how it works in a small class. Students were asked to bring their laptops and an electronic document, which we’ll post to a shared folder I’ve created (this could be done prior to class, and I did encourage students to do so, but I am banking on there being stragglers!) and convert to an editable format.  The major questions students addressed as concerns the previous class included 1.) accuracy of theoretical understanding, and 2.) the usefulness of the through narrative they’re to construct for the assignment.

I’ll have students spend a little time crafting questions specific to their own essays at the head of their draft, and adding two or three questions at specific points throughout–this has the added benefit of allowing us to assess any difficulties with the technology. Then, students will work with three other essays in turn to address the extent to which it fulfills the goals of the assignment, in particular by making at least six positive suggestions for changing or refining the content. This can involve suggesting:

  • a quote or a paraphrase,
  • a logical connection,
  • an alternative formulation,
  • a re-organization,
  • a transition, and so on.

Students can reply to or otherwise comment on other reviewers’ comments, as well. Then, I’d like to have students spend a little time crafting a final comment regarding style–in particular, what writing habits did you notice that the author might want to examine during the revision process? What citation habits might the author want to revise? The goal with these specific tasks is to limit and structure the kind of comments peer reviewers can make. By the end of the workshop, each draft should have three reviewers’ comment–students will have to look at the comments to assess whether that draft needs another pair of eyes.

The next step will be downloading the draft as a Word document–this should retain the comments. The essay’s shape will have to be revised, as well as the content, because the upload/comment/download process will strip some of the overall formatting.

Has anyone else used a shared google docs folder for workshopping? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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