DAILY INSIGHT: Google Docs + collaborative learning teams = win

By Matt Townsley, CIO Advisor

Over the past year a half, our staff has deeply engaged in embracing a professional learning community (PLC) philosophy. Our teachers meet approximately twice per month during our 1:00pm student dismissal times for the purpose of collaborating around curriculum alignment, authoring assessments and looking at formative assessment data. Using a "loose-tight" framework, each collaborative learning team is in a different place along the PLC journey based upon their team make-up and students. We are tightin that the teams must focus their work on several questions:

  1. What is it we want all students to learn?
  2. How will we know when they have learned it?
  3. How will we respond when a student experiences difficulty?
  4. How will we respond when a student has already demonstrated understanding?

We are loose in allowing teams to dig into these questions from different angles. This creates a scenario in which teams of teachers are meeting more often together than we're asking them to meet in large group settings at the building or district level.

Google Docs is a tool that breaks down barriers and creates less paperwork for our staff members. Teams create agendas and track minutes in a Google document that is shared amongst the team and with building and district administrators. Some of our teams use Google spreadsheets to share student assessment data as well. This approach has several distinct advantages.

  • Accountability - At any given time a team member can refer back to previously made decisions within the document. Administrators can also gain a better understanding of the team's progress without being present.
  • Organization - Teams no longer need to shuffle through 3-ring binders full of handouts, agenda and minutes. Teams are required to create a collection within Google Docs that encompasses their agendas and minutes, norms, goals and other pertinent documentation.
  • Accessibility - Our administrative team can access these documents where ever and whenever. For example, I was once in our elementary school meeting with a team, and received an instant message asking to elaborate on a comment I had left on a team's minutes from the high school. I was able to go into the Google Doc of the high school team and reply to their request.

Google Docs and collaborative learning teams have been an incredible fit for the staff members in our district.In what ways is your school district or building or team using Google Docs?

Matt Townsley is director of instruction and technology at the Solon Community School District in eastern Iowa.