All Things Google: Using Google for Writing Portfolios


Since ProfHacker launched, we’ve written a lot about Google Documents. George, for instance, has written about using it for collaborative work, and we’ve also run posts on using the tool in writing classes, both for work in general and for peer review in particular. For a few years now, I’ve been asking the students in the writing course I teach each fall to do their writing in Google Docs. (Yes, I teach writing, even though I’m in the Political Science department. My college has a “writing across the curriculum” program, and teaching in such a program provides some real benefits to faculty.)

This past semester, I decided to experiment a bit. In our writing program, students must submit a portfolio at the end of the semester. That portfolio is then evaluated by one (sometimes two) readers other than the instructor. Though I’ve been using Google Documents in class for quite a while, submitting the portfolio has always meant printing out the various drafts of essays at semester’s end. That’s provided me with an opportunity to talk with students about good record-keeping and information management, but it was still a bit of a bother. Why not just have students create their portfolios electronically?

After doing some initial investigation, I got the go-ahead to try it. I opted to have students use Google Sites to create their portfolios, for several reasons.

  • Students were already using Google Documents for their essays, so the interface was reasonably familiar to them.
  • Google Documents integrates well with Google Sites, so it was very easy for students to embed their essays in their portfolios.
  • Google Sites allows for easy customization, for any student who might want to get creative with site design.
  • Using Google Sites along with Google Documents makes it very easy for students to control who’s allowed to see what. I created two “reader accounts” in GMail, and students were expected to share all of their documents with both me and the readers, and to make their sites accessible to us. Beyond that, who could see their work was entirely up to the students.

I was very pleased with the results of this experiment. The students were able to construct their portfolios with little difficulty, and gained some technical skills in the process. Readers had full access to the students’ work and (through the revision history in Google Docs) to earlier drafts of students’ essays. And no trees were sacrificed!

For those interested in what such a portfolio might look like, here’s the sample site I gave my students as a model.

What about you? Have you experimented with electronic portfolios for one or more of your classes? What tools did you use and how did it go? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by 49445942@N02]

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