Collaborative Writing Via Google Docs and Skype

Today we experienced the best collaborative writing experience I’ve ever been part of. Lisa Parisi and Christine Southard’s 5th grade class in New York is involved with my class and a group of other teachers around the country in a writing project using the book “The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.” I blogged about it the other day. Lisa’s class and mine are paired up for this project and today we had our classes collaborating in two innovative ways.

Students discussing their shared story while co-editing it in real time via Google Docs

The students are collaboratively writing stories in groups of 3 or 4 using Google Docs. Today they logged into their shared Google Docs so they could write and discuss the stories they have been brainstorming at the same time. What made this truly transformative was we also set-up computers in our rooms with web cams and had the students working on the same stories discussing characters and setting and plot and everything else involved in their stories over video-Skype, while at the same time editing together via Google Docs. So they were discussing and watching each other edit and add content while seeing and talking to each other at the same time.

Google Doc – students used different colors to keep track of whose work was whose.

I was being observed by a mentor teacher and her 3 mentees during this time … they were blown away by what was happening. Read Lisa’s post to learn about her experience with her principal.

Students discussing comments being left by their writing partners 2,500 miles away.

We are hoping to recreate this experience and maybe even have more computers to Skype with so conversations can continue.

Afterwards I had my students blog about the experience. We used these questions to drive our thinking. Note the word bank we were developing at the bottom.

Learning is messy!

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22 thoughts on “Collaborative Writing Via Google Docs and Skype

  1. This was wonderful! I read Lisa’s post and yours and am so excited for both of you. I like how you had questions to drive their thinking on the blog. I never thought of word banks either but that is a great suggestion! I hope you share the final products with us so we can be amazed some more! Congratulations on a job well done!

  2. Hey Brian. This is a truly inspiring example of what can be done. Thanks for the detail that you’ve shared, and for the photos that help to make your class’s experience come alive. I hope this post is read by teachers everywhere! I’ll do my best to share it with other teachers who might also be inspired. –Paul

  3. Thank you so much for the wonderful post that just proves how much the web has allowed us to expand on our ideas for collaboration in the classroom. I am truly impressed by the level of knowledge your 5th graders have. This is a true example of online collaboration at it’s best. You gave me a great idea using google docs. I had been collaborating with other grad students using wiki or blog and am now very much interested in trying in with google docs.
    Thanks again!

  4. This is great! Thanks so much for sharing.

    I’m a Programs Manager working with Google Docs, and I’d love to chat with you more about this project. Just contact me at the number I listed above, when you have a moment.

    Thanks again for sharing your creativity with others, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


  5. Great story and pics.

    Children really need this type of input in their education. It is the way of their future working and productivity. “Connectivism” has to be part of the new 21st Century Pedagogy.

    I’ve highlighted it on the new Promethean Planet Blog so other teachers can see this and be inspired…. Great blog!

    Mail me – if you want to contribute to any article for our readers.

  6. This project is just fabulous. You and Lisa are modeling the way classrooms today can work, networking with other classrooms, collaborating, using technology for meaningful communications. I hope to share this with 5th grade teachers i facilitate to inspire them.

  7. This is very cool, but I’m a little scared. Skype with 5th grade? What instructions do you include so that this doesn’t go terribly wrong when they go home and use Skype? Sorry, my first time here. I’ll look around some more, maybe I’ll see that somewhere else. Thanks for some great ideas.

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  9. Gail – Good question – I haven’t had any students go home and use Skype yet, but like all things we do on the net we have talked about being safe and ethical and why. There are many things that students can get into outside of school that we use at school that could lead to them getting hurt. We use scissors at school … if students got into the scissors at home (or kitchen knives or poisons or many other things) and chose to use them in a dangerous way someone could get cut, or their eye put out, or even killed – does that mean we should keep scissors a secret and not allow students to use them? No. So we talk about how to use scissors safely and still some kids get hurt (and some adults too) – but the use of them is considered important and valuable enough that we still use them.

    To use Skype in the way we do you have to have a Skype account set up with an email address and other information AND someone’s Skype name and call them and they have to accept your call. It is possible to go to Skype’s web site where they list Skypecasts you can join … some of which are about topics we would not want students to join. This is why the Skype web site is blocked in most school districts … it is where you find out about Skypecasts to join (note – Once you have the Skype software on your computer you never need the Skype web site again (and you can even find the software on other web sites for download) – you do not need access to the Skype web site to use Skype … the software makes Skype work, not the web site.
    We do not do Skypecasts … we use Skype to call people we have chosen to converse with and we model safe use. I’ve yet to hear of Skype being misused to contact kids, but I guess it is possible … all the more reason to make them aware of it and how to use it safely.

  10. Kimberley – sounds like a great idea – note that in video mode Skype only allows 1:1 video-Skyping, which is probably all you need. In audio mode you can have up to 99 people I believe.
    I’ve wanted to do book clubs with blogging … I know several teachers that do this already … book clubs with Skype could be really cool and give access to others.

  11. This is a great example of bringing excitement and ‘newness’ to an age old classroom assignment. I just wonder about teachers introducing an activity like this too early. The reason this project works so well is becuase the students know how to spell and how to construct grammatically coherent sentences. There still needs to be that offline foundation building of basic skills and techniques.

  12. This is a very cool project. I was wondering about using Skype in the classroom; thanks for the guidelines.

    I’m visiting for the first time. I saw your blog listed on Cool Cat Teacher’s blog, and the name jumped out at me. I had just done a couple blog posts last week about the ‘learning is messy’ idea, so I just had to come over. Here are the links if you’re interested:

  13. I could see this being very valuable to students who learning English as their second language. It is a wonderful way of interacting with their own peer group and thus learning about the construction of sentences and the like. I’m adding you to my blogroll. I’m curious as to how many computers you have in your room.

  14. I am curious about setting up one google account for my class. Is this the best way for a group of 25 students to have access to the same docs. I understand how Google docs works, but the logistics of giving all of my students gmail sounds too tricky to manage. Any recommendations?


  15. Hi Sarah – It is a great way and you don’t have to give your students gmail. I’m using Google Apps now and my students don’t even know they have gmail accounts because we haven’t needed to use them and they don’t need them to access or use their Docs or share them with others. When we did the project mentioned here we had students log into Docs through a class gmail account … but students again didn’t understand that and once they were in the Doc the email account isn’t even needed. Hope that helps.