Thing 20 (Week 23) - Online Office: Getting Started with Google Docs


One of the "hallmarks" of Web 2.0 technology is the idea of the Internet becoming not just "a place we go," but an application, allowing users to perform "software" tasks (such as word processing and image editing) online, inside a web browser. Probably the best example of this trend is the development of several online office suites, including ThinkFree, Zoho Office and Google Docs, which allow users to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations online, for free.

All of you have been using Google Docs since the day you began this course, by adding your info and marking off "Things" in the course spreadsheet. That should give you an idea of how useful a tool this can be. We have several people all editing a single spreadsheet online. Of course, many of us (MS teachers) have also been using Google Docs for our weekly reports for awhile now. If that's you, feel free to skip right down to the Stretch Tasks!

Google Docs in Plain English from our friends at CommonCraft

What's all the fuss?

While it doesn't include every advanced feature of traditional desktop office software, Google docs has many attractive features including some that traditional desktop software can't match. And they are always adding new features. Here are a few of the highlights.

  • It's free. Microsoft office costs a home user about $300, a student or teacher at least $100.
  • It's easy. If you are familiar with the basic toolbar functions in Word, Excel and Powerpoint, you should find Google Docs fairly intuitive to navigate.
  • Documents are stored online and accessible from any computer. There is only one copy of each document, and you can never lose it.
  • It's compatible with Microsoft Office (and other file formats), allowing importing/uploading of existing documents, spreadsheets and presentations, and downloading/exporting of files to edit in Microsoft Office.
  • It's collaborative. Share documents with other users and edit them simultaneously! One useful classroom application would be for a teacher to give feedback on a student essay or paper within the Google doc, rather than on a printed version. Also great for peer-editing.
  • It offers built-in revision history. Google saves every version of a document with a time stamp and username (like a wiki), allowing users to
    • Compare any two versions of a document, seeing exactly what has changed.
    • Know precisely which content was contributed by each user (e.g. teachers can evaluate and track student contributions over time).
    • Easily revert to an old version at any time.
  • Chat feature: Google spreadsheets allows users to discuss a file while working on it. Google presentations allows viewers to discuss the presentation while watching it online!
  • Instant forms: Create a survey, poll or other form and email it to selected respondents, or publish it to the web and send the link to desired participants. Results are instantly stored in a Google spreadsheet.
  • Many sharing and publishing options.
    • Documents can be public or private (unshared); Collaborators may be invited as editors or only as viewers.
    • Documents may be Published to the web for viewing as a web page. Simply share the URL on a website or in email.
    • Spreadsheets and presentations are embeddable in other web pages (such as wikis).
    • When you make changes to a Published document, the Published version updates automatically when the document is saved.
    • Use Google docs as a simple way to create web pages that share links. (Ex. Peek's Page)
    • Track changes to any published document via RSS feed.

Discovery Exercise: Explore Google Docs

Google Docs:

¤ NOTE: The best time to complete the PART 1 exercise may be the next time you have a REAL need to use Microsoft Word to create a document. I am asking you to share the document, so it's probably best if it's not something sensitive. Perhaps your summer plans after June 11!

¤ SHARING NOTE: You may want to begin a document and invite one or more participants as collaborators so that you can work on it together. A single collaborative document can "count" for each person's completion of this exercise, as long as everyone contributes to the document.

PART 1: (~15-30 minutes) Log into Google Docs using your Google (or Gmail) username and password. Create a new "word" document Practice using several formatting tools and features. As you explore, consider ways you might incorporate Google Docs into your classroom, professional or personal life.

When you have finished exploring, SHARE your document with your 23 Griffin Things classmates, with me,, and anyone else you might want to share with. (While viewing your document, click Share > Invite People... and enter our email addresses where it says Invite, then click Send). When working in a Google Docs, it is less important to save often because Google automatically saves your doc every few seconds.

‡ HELP Video: - Intro to Google Docs Interface
‡ HELP Resource: - Google Docs Basics (PDF quick reference from FCIT)

Things to try while exploring:

  • Format text - change font and font size, make text bold or italic, change font color, add bullets or numbers, change alignment.
  • Insert a picture from your computer or from a web URL (Insert menu) -- btw, Foreign Language teachers, the Insert menu also has a special characters feature!
  • Add a table and enter some text in the cells. (Table menu)
  • Add a link - Two ways: Simply copy and paste a URL into the document; Embed a link by highlighting some text and clicking link on the toolbar to paste the URL. Note the option to "open link in new window").
  • After you have Saved your file several times, check out the Revision history (File > See revision history).

¤ NOTE: Again, the best time to complete the PART 2 exercise may be the next time you have a REAL need to use Microsoft Excel or Powerpoint.

PART 2: (~15-20 minutes) Explore either the spreadsheet or presentation tools (or both if you are having fun -- I don't mind if you blog about how you lost another precious hour of your life exploring a remarkably useful tool). Begin a new file and see what you can "figure out." Again, think about how this tool might fit into your classroom, professional life, or for personal use.

PART 3: (~15-20 minutes) - Upload, Download, Forms and Publishing
  • Upload one or more existing documents from your computer to Google Docs. See how they "look" when uploaded. (Upload link)
  • Download your Google document, spreadsheet or presentation in a format of choice. (File menu)
  • Check out a sample form. Complete this brief form I created using Google spreadsheets. (Instead of sending an email invitation, I simply linked it here). To create your own form, choose New > Form. I can think of a hundred ways to use this with students and for administrative tasks!
  • (OPTIONAL) Publish a document as a web page (obviously, make it something you don't mind the world seeing). Share the URL for your published document as part of your blog post for this task.

PART 4: (~15-20 minutes) - Beyond Google Docs

Write a blog post reflecting on your Google Docs experience. Include at least three ideas for using Google in classroom learning and/or professional learning/productivity. At least one idea should reflect a collaborative use. Please include "Thing 20" in your post title.

Stretch (there is too much to squeeze into 23 Things, so I'm sneaking in a few extra here!)
  • Explore the iGoogle pages of famous people.
  • Create an iGoogle page for yourself.
  • Check out PageFlakes.
  • Visit Glogster to create an interactive poster. Great for presentations.