Google Docs in the classroom (again)

After having my students use Google Documents last year to prepare their group translation projects (described here and here), I decided to have this year’s class use the application for a partner project. I asked students to answer the same questionnaire I gave out last year, as I wanted to see whether the two types of assignments led the students to have similar or different experiences with Google Documents.

The assignment this year differed from last year’s in several ways. First, the students were translating independent pages from the website of France-based not-for-profit company Eau Vive, whereas last year, students were translating a single document, which I had divided into sections for each group of 4-5 to work on. Having students share their translations with me via Google Docs worked much better this year: I just had to export the files as a Word document and then make my revisions to each one before sending it off to the client. This was much more efficient than last year, when I was trying to cut and paste from the various student submissions to put a single, lengthy document together. However, I still had to correct the formatting differences between the French STs and the student translations. This, I suspect, is the reason that, of the 16 students who submitted their questionnaires, only 5 complained about formatting restrictions, and 1 of these 5 complaints was about a feature that was not in the ST (the student wanted to add a footnote to explain a decision, but the footnote was not part of the ST), while another was about a feature that Google Docs actually did have (track changes). Only 2 students complained about not being able to format the TT in the same way as the ST because Google Docs did not have the feature (line breaks or horizontal bars), and 1 complained that Google Docs did not generally have as many options as a word processor. I suspect, though, that if I had stressed to students that I wanted their translations to look identical to the ST in terms of formatting (something I assumed they would know), then more students would have complained about the limited formatting options.

Seeing how much easier it was to translate separate documents rather than to have each group create a document with their translation of an excerpt from a longer text, I’ve decided to modify the group assignment I’ll be giving out next term. If we work on a longer text together, I will upload the entire French ST to Google Docs, share it with the class, and have them all work on their sections directly in that one file. This way, all students would be able to see what their classmates were doing, and perhaps offer feedback during the translation process. Translating like this might also improve collaboration, because last year, even though I had made the entire document available to all students, I still had students come to ask me questions about terms or concepts that were explained in the parts of the text their group was not responsible for translating. This may be because each group wasn’t able to see everyone else’s translations, or it may just be because some students need to learn to look within a text for answers to their questions before they start looking outside it, particularly when their questions centre around vocabulary specific to the organization that prepared the ST (e.g. job titles, program details).

I’ll post more about the group project in April, once students have submitted their assignments and commented on their experiences collaborating with Google Docs.

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