Collaborate with Google Tools

By Barbara Bray Are you looking for an online program for collaborative peer editing and revising? Most of us are using programs that reside on our laptop or desktop like Microsoft Word. When I want to collaborate with a colleague, I have to attach the document to an email, send it, and wait to receive the changes. I have been looking for a wiki type of program that is similar to Word that allows revisions and saving versions. Found it: Google Docs is an easy-to-use online word processor that enables you to create, store, share, and collaborate on documents. You can even import any existing document from Word and Simple Text. You don’t need to have the same program on your computer. You can work from anywhere to access your documents. You do need a Google account (or Gmail account--both are free) to log in and use Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Click New Document Start typing – really - it’s that easy.


As soon as you start typing the document is saved. Whatever your first few words are, they are listed as the title of your document. To change the title, go to File > Rename > type in your new title. The document is saved every 20 seconds so if you make a mistake and want to go back, click on Revisions. You can always revert back to an older version. You can compare versions and see what others (yes - you can collaborate with others!) have added or changed.

You can insert pictures. What is cool is that you can define how you want images to appear in the document. You can also insert links, comments, tables, bookmarks, separators, and special characters. You can add up to 20 people to collaborate (they need a Gmail or Google account) on this document. I see the possibilities for collaboration for teachers or administrators as a professional development opportunity. Just imagine planning a workshop together or revising the agenda while sipping coffee in front of the fire in your pajamas. That's what I'm doing right now. The idea of anytime anywhere can happen with Google Docs.

Some ideas on how to use Google Docs in the classroom

Elementary school students collaborate to
• • •

read the same book and write a book report. share their reflections of a field trip. create a story from a story prompt.

Middle school students collaborate to
• • •

write a science hypothesis about an experiment. recreate an historical event. develop a word math problem.

High school students collaborate to
• • •

create articles for the school newspaper. write a script for play. debate a current event.

Here's an example shared at the Google Teacher Academy
At Palo Alto High School, CA, Esther Wojcicki’s 9th-12th Journalism class, every student keeps their entire writing portfolio on Google Docs. The teacher checks and verifies which assignments have been turned in on a daily basis. Everything is centrally located. Students are able to manage the entire writing process: share ideas, create revisions, and publish their final work. The teacher can track development of each writing assignment.

Ideas and Blogs about Google Docs
Things to with Google docs (using Writely) by Ken Stein Blog: Why Beth loves Google Docs for education Google in Education blog

Collaborate with Google Earth
Another collaborative tool that you can use with teachers and students is Google Earth ( a Geo Browser like Firefox that provides you a new way to search your world. The navigation controls appear in the top right corner of the 3D viewer. They offer the same type of navigation action that you can achieve with mouse navigation, plus some additional features. • To quickly load Google Earth faster while you zoom, turn the terrain off. • Mouse over the compass to bring up the navigation controls. • Use the plus to zoom in and the minus to zoom out. • Double-click on either button to zoom all the way. Double-click and Right click to zoom out. • Tilt the earth using the top bar with the x's. Tilt to the left to tilt up towards a vertical view or bird's eye view. Tilt to the right for a horizontal view. • N points north. Rotate the earth by grabbing the N and scrolling left or right.

Zoom in Using a Placemark

A placemark is a visual notation that marks a location. Each placemark appears as a pushpin with a label. 1. Go to the Places Panel to the Sightseeing folder. 2. Click open the Grand Canyon folder and double-click on the Grand Canyon place entry to zoom to the Grand Canyon.

Add Placemarks, Folders, and Loads of Resources
Explore with your students the power of images as they research, select and evaluate photographs or videos in an interactive and collaborative lesson. Incorporate geographic literacy into the experience by challenging them to focus on the significance of the place, captured in time that influenced events. 1. Build a Google Earth tour for your students by selecting several resources that you want to share. 2. Start your project by creating a new "Folder" in the Google Earth "My Places" sidebar. Click on "Add/Folder" in the top menu. Name the folder based on your collection of resources. 3. Select the Placemark tool in Google Earth and anchor the location of each of the photos in your Earth file. 4. In the "Description" box that pops up with each new Placemark, name the Placemark with the date of the image, video, stream, and audio file. Include the resource in the Placemark Description box by typing in the simple html image code <img scr ="URL of your photograph">. Use the address or URL of the image as you "View Image" in your browser (right click or ctrl click on image to "view image"). 5. Add streaming videos or audio files by finding the media online and click to Stream. As it streams, right-click (CTRL-Click for Macs) and then click properties and copy location to paste into the placemark description box. 6. Post audio files and podcasts with your placemark. Copy the location of the streaming audio from the properties window or from the URL and paste it with the placemark description. 7. Add Image Overlays. Right click on the web image, then click properties and copy and paste the address. You can also add images from your computer but you cannot move the image from that location later or it will not work. 8. Build out several more Placemarks and then highlight your new Folder by clicking once. In the top Earth menu choose (File/Save/Save Place as) "kmz" to share with students.

Share your KMZ Files
KML is a file format used to display geographic data in an Earth browser, such as Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Maps for mobile. KML uses a tag-based structure with nested elements and attributes and is based on the XML standard. KML stands for Keyhole Markup Language (Keyhole was the name of the application before Google bought it and added their own features and larger databases). KMZ stands for KMLZipped. It is the default format for KML because it is a compressed version of the file. One of the more powerful features of KMZ is that it allows any images you use - say custom icons, or images in your descriptions - to be zipped up within the KMZ file. That way you can share these details without having to reference the files through some link to the Internet.

Places People have Shared

Now you can look at the places quoted in Shakespeare (85 placemarks). Someone named "H21" from France posted the placemarks at the Google Earth Community ( Save the KMZ file onto your computer and then open the file to open Google Earth (that is, if you have it installed on your computer). The links and placemarks will appear in your Places on Google Earth. Click on any of the links or placemarks to view the description. There are Google Book Searches on Shakespeare and Google Groups that discuss Shakespeare plays.

Jerome Burg, a Google Certified Teacher and Language Arts High School teacher in Livermore, California, developed Google Lit Trips ( as an experiment in teaching literature in a very different way. His students create and share KMZ files about authors, plays, stories, podcasts, and more. Keep an eye on where his students take their next trips.

Google Educators are designing new ways to use Google Tools. Too much to share in this column so expect some more ideas in future articles and presentations.

Barbara Bray ( writes a column on professional development for OnCUE, coordinates the PDQs (Professional Development Quick Tips) for, and is President of My eCoach ( Check out her new blogs: and and a presentation she created on Google tools (

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