Lately I've been on the hunt for a way to allow students to collaborate on a documents for group projects and home based projects using a web 2.0 tool. My first instinct was to look at Google Docs which I've used successfully during my coursework at Loyola. (In the event you aren't familiar with Google Docs yourself you can take a closer look at its features and the way it works here http://www.google.com/google-d-s/intl/en/tour1.html.) I actually even set up an email account and created some collaborative biography documents for my students. With the permission of some parents, some of my students in one of my language arts advanced learner groups jumped at the opportunity to work with me on a biography project. For approximately the last two weeks we have been working together on the biographies. To be honest, normally students are working on the biography project as a homework assignment and I've been logging on from home and making comments about their writing, details they might wish to add and changes they might make. Almost none of this collaboration has been taking place in the school setting. It has been productive and helpful. I can see changes as the students make them and I can also see the progress they are making on their biographies. It is practical and purposeful. Except for the troubling realization that I am spending a lot of time at home working with students on these biography projects, I am very pleased with how well it is working. I do have a few parents who are reluctant to allow their children to log on using a gmail account so we continue to pass actual paper back and forth.
Unfortunately when I attempted to use Google Docs at school I couldn't access the student document I was hoping to work on. I checked with our school technician and she claimed that Google Docs is not blocked by our school system, but it is frequently down for one reason or another. Strangely enough it is never "down" when I attempt to use it from home. At school I get some error message advising me to download a newer version of a flash player or some such activity that I'm unable to complete because I don't have administrator privileges on school computers. That's the typical pickle I find myself in when trying to do something productive with computers at our school.
Our technician also seems to think that using Google Docs is not a good idea because it is susceptible to viruses and other hazards of online activity. I wondered about that and did a quick google search. I guess the results could generate a critical literacy project on their own, but there does seem to be some merit to the concern. Here's a link to some information about the potential threat. http://answerguy.com/2011/05/31/google-security-phishing-virus/. I can't vouch for the accuracy of "the answer guy". I also found some additional information at similar sites but nothing that appeared to be from a more authoritative source. To my knowledge I've never picked up a virus through my own personal use of Google Docs. However I know from experience that if the technician has reservations about something I want to use at school I'm going to have difficulty getting support as I work through the glitches in the program. I can pretty much give up on getting that flash player downloaded any time before the biography project is complete. So I am off to see if I can find any other web 2.0 tools that will offer similar features and be accessible from both school and home. Stay tuned. I am looking closely at http://www.showdocument.com/ and it just might work. I'll know and share more tomorrow about that particular site/suite of tools.