Posts Tagged ‘Google Docs’

Groups in the Social-Distanced Classroom

Last week, I posted some late night musings on how a face-to-face classroom might be different under social distancing. I was surprised at the number of people who viewed that post — nearly 100 in the first day. And because I can’t ask questions like that without searching for answers, I’ve begun collecting some tools and brainstorming some ideas for how we could do group work in a social-distanced classroom.

I will continue collecting these tools on my discussiong group for my textbook,  A Writer’s Craftsince I am thinking primarily about how creative writing can be taught using something like the group work I’m used to doing. Even trying to wrap my brain around this, though, has me thinking about how much more efficient it is to have students sit next to one another and talk. I can give them index cards with instructions, and I can pass those out rendomly to different groups to get them through a prompt. Or I can have them all write the same prompt individually and then turn to a partner or a group and share what they wrote. It all seems effortless compared to exchanging even short files with partners in a digital forum. But you have to sit exchange paper or sit near someone and talk: in either case, you’re also exchanging germs.

Lecturing can be deadly in a creative writing class, though, since it thrives on active learning. Students learn to write by doing, not just by being told what to do. While I’d love to find a way to electronically pass index cards around groups of 2-4 students (not share with everyone at once, but pass messages around a group), and I’d love to find a way for students to talk in a group without actually talking (since we’ll be in the same room but too far away from each other to talk quietly), I might be willing to settle for some other activities for students to do to break up a lecture and get them writing and thinking together. That’s why I’m looking for active ‘toys’ that can be adapted to creative writing tasks. Here’s what I’ve found so far. If you have suggestions, please let me know!

Hypothesis looks like a great way to read and comment on texts together. The text needs to be either a PDF or a web page. It might be good for making comments on a draft the student saved as PDF (as long as that isn’t public) or on a poem or story in an online journal. The group can write annotations of text to critique it or they could write creative annotations to respond to or make found poetry or found art out of something online.

Educaplay offers a number of games for use in the classroom. Some that seem promising are the Dialogue Game, Fill in the Blanks, Riddle, Unscramble Letters, and Unscramble Words. My main question (not having tested these yet) is whether students can create their games or whether the instructor has to create the game for students. Either could be useful, such as a fill-in-the-blanks game to create a poem with the blanks ro a dialogue game to create dialogue for a scene.

Draft is an online word processor that allows collaboration on drafts with the people you invite. This could be useful for sharing group work, especially if you don’t want to use Google Docs or Office 365.

Google Docs also allows users to share documents and collaborate on drafts. This could be used to share documents in groups and to allow readers to comment or add content to a draft. One advantage for Canvas users is that Google Docs is the default method for Canvas’s Collaborate feature

Speaking of Canvas, the Pages feature can also be used for collaborative writing. A page can be set to be editable by students. You could use the Groups feature to put students in groups and then give each group a page to compose in with the exercise instructions. They could write together on this page.

Trello is actually a project organizer for group planning, but it seems like it might be adaptable to smaller projects like group work. You can set up cards that can be annotated or commented on, and you can even create automated workflows. The free account allows unlimited users and up to 10 boards, so I could see using it for group work 10 times in one semester before I had to delete my boards. Or possibly, if I could have one board per class, and then create each group activity as part of the board, I could keep our work available all semester long. Assigning people to work on those activities might be a challenge, especially if I wanted to be in different groups each time, which I do like to do.

Quizlet seems primarily geared toward study aids and tests, but I wonder whether some of their ‘sets’ (like flashcards) could be adapted to group work. I haven’t explored Quizlet too far yet because I keep getting put off by the emphasis on learning rather than creating, but like Trello, I think somehow it might be adapted to more creative group activities.

I’m primarily looking for free tools that can be used without requiring a lot of cumbersome logins. Ideally, I could find one or two, maybe three tools to use for a few types of group assignments, so students don’t get bored doing the same thing all the time. I don’t want them (or me) to have to keep up with too many subscriptions or login information, and I do need whatever tools I use to be accessible on a phone, so that they don’t have to bring a laptop to class (though typing might be easier on a laptop). And I want to be able to adapt the same tools to an online class if we have to go back to all online instruction at some point.

I’ll keep adding to this list of tools in the discussion group on Goodreads for my textbook.

Word Processors for Poets

Today’s my birthday, so my gift to you is a recommendation of free software.

Poets get a bum rap for never having money (it’s true!), but that’s not why I’m recommending two free word processors today. And it’s not because poets are so anti-establishment we have to fight against Microsoft’s domination with alternatives to MS Word, though that may be a noble cause.

Even Apple with Pages (free with your Mac, so not exactly free) might be worth fighting against on those terms, but I don’t mind it as much as Word. Pages doesn’t do the things that bother me most about MS Word, so it might be a good alternative if you already own a Mac, but for the rest of the world (PC or even Linux users), there are a couple of great free options to Word. (Sorry Google, I’m not thinking about Docs!)

First, what’s so annoying about Word, especially for poets? I’ve always struggled with its default settings, which are geared to an office environment. For one, I always have to instruct my poetry students how to force Word to single-space their poems. They set it to single space, but Word thinks every new line is a new paragraph and every new paragraph needs to have extra space between it and the previous one. Can we spell business letter, anyone?

(There’s an easy trick to fix that, actually: edit your default document template to set your default font and paragraph spacing options. It will affect every new file, but most of us don’t mind. Or create a poem template that has your settings for poetry, so you can keep your business letter template as default, if you must.)

The other annoying habit of Word isn’t quite so easy to fix. Word likes to have a capital letter at the beginning of every new line. It apparently thinks it’s a new sentence as well as a new paragraph, so in order to turn this feature off, you have to turn off capitalization at the beginning of a sentence. But then all sentences are affected, not just the ones at the beginnings of lines that aren’t really the beginning of sentences.

So the quicker, easier, and perhaps more gratifying solution is to switch to OpenOffice or LibreOffice. Both are free, open source office suites that are perfectly stable and secure. They do everything Word does, but the don’t treat poets like business execs (or their assistants). You don’t have to do anything to get them to work the way you want. They work well for poets right out of the box!

Both also include a database program, which might be more useful for keeping track of submissions than Excel. I’m currently working on that, and if I get it to work, I’ll post about it later. They both also have spreadsheet applications and other common office suite apps.

From what I’ve read, OpenOffice and LibreOffice are virtually identical, though if you want to save your files in Word format, then LibreOffice is the way to go. Both will open files in and save to a number of different formats that Word can see, and OpenOffice can save to a .doc file, just not .docx (which many people hate), so if you want to look like you’re using the latest Word when you exchange files, then LibreOffice is probably the way to go. Otherwise, choose the one whose icon or interface you like best or flip a coin. You can’t go wrong with either word processor, and you will be thankful for the reduced number of headaches they cause you, esp. if you write poetry!

Or you can do like a lot of Instagram poets I’ve seen recently: buy an old typewriter, type your poems, take a picture (typos and all), and post it online!