Posts Tagged ‘Google Docs’

In this note, I’m going to look at the various kinds of technology I’ve used for the first time since the start of this course. This is mostly commentary on the usefulness of the technology and any problems I/we encountered with it. One of my goals, not only for this class but in general, was to find out about and use more forms of technology. For example, I’ve seen wikis before but never made one myself. As a lecturer in a technological university, I should be up-to-date on the latest tech and know how and if I can use them in my own classes. Here’s my report:

1. Wikis

Q: Why use a wiki?

A: A wiki is a collaborative way to produce a group document. With a wiki, people around the world can work on a document together asynchronously, which is very useful for writing a group paper, or a list of resources, or a website where contributions from many people will be included.

It’s odd that I had never made a wiki myself because I wrote a paper on wikis back in 2005 with my colleague, Rick Lavin. He had been using wikis with his classes and suggested we write a paper together on wikis. He wrote about wikis and I wrote about how wikis represent some tenets of constructivist thought. I was the theory person, he was the practical wiki person. Our paper is good, I think, when I read it now, and it’s a good example of a cooperative (as opposed to collaborative) paper where two people bring very different skills and background to a project, where you cannot contribute much to the other person’s side of the project because you don’t know much about it. In any case, even after writing the paper and presenting it with him I did not try out wikis on my own.

So it’s very satisfying to have finally produced a wiki, and a very collaborative one, with my teammates Anni and Dan. We used one because we had studied wikis in class, knew their affordances well, and a wiki seemed to meet our need for a common writing ground.

Indeed our wiki at Wikispaces, a popular free wiki was very convenient and useful. One of the tools I like best is the History tool. It records all versions of the wiki that have been produced. If you choose two versions, say the latest version and the one before that, you can see all the changes that have been made. All text that has been added shows up highlighted in green, and all text that has been deleted shows up in red. So a contributor who doesn’t know exactly what changes have been made can find out simply by selecting the last version that she/he read, and the latest version. You can also use the Notify Me tool to get an e-mail sent to you every time the wiki has been updated.

I chose Wikispaces randomly from the available wikis simply because of its prominence and because Vincent told me that it had a discussion page. In fact we never used the discussion page because we discussed everything using our online KeC forum and by chatting using Skype. In retrospect, I think it was a good choice, and I like that Wikispaces comes with a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License, which means that anyone can use it or adapt it as they please.

The one drawback to using this wiki, and I think it’s a big one, is that it doesn’t tell you when someone else is updating the wiki. Dan and Anni were both editing at the same time, and our wiki didn’t tell us that, and they had a huge problem in that when they finished the update, the changes the other person had made were lost! This seems to be an obvious kink and I wonder why there is nothing in place to prevent it from happening. The wiki should only allow one person to edit at a time, with a simple message box of “Someone else is editing the wiki now” popping up would suffice.

As a result of my very positive experience with a wiki, I’m going to use it with my second year students, who’ll make a wiki of useful websites for studying and/or practicing English. I’ll have to work out a way for them not to be editing at the same time, so I may designate days where only one group member can edit and contribute. But I just found this discussion where it says that Google Docs does not have this editing problem. And here in Google Docs documentation, it says, “If you and another collaborator are editing the same document at the same time, a box with the name of the collaborator appears at the top of the screen. If other people are editing a document simultaneously with you, you’ll see their edits in real time. You can also see their names listed at the top. Click the arrow to the right of the names to open a tab where you can chat with other editors within the document.” This would solve the multiple edits problem, and it would be useful to have the chat right in the same window as the document!

So maybe I will use Google Docs instead. Anni, Dan, want to try our Google Docs? 🙂

Note: Since this is already a page and a half in Word, I’m going to make it a note by itself. Next time I’ll write about blogs.