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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Solution to an Annoying (for some) Problem in Google Docs

Since we adopted the Google Apps for Education platform a year ago, I have heard so many positive reports of how great it is, how much easier it is to store and share student work, how much teachers love the ability to collaborate with kids (and kids with each other), and how helpful it is to be in the cloud, which provides us with all kinds of opportunity for teaching real-world digital citizenship skills.  We love it!

The one "complaint" I've heard has to do with the massive library of docs one quickly acquires when students start turning in their work via sharing. Each and every assignment leads to dozens of new documents in your list, and though you have the ability to create collections of these docs, your "Home" list houses EVERYTHING YOU HAVE EVER LOOKED AT, which can be a bit overwhelming.  A teacher aptly described it like your iTunes library. There's one place where all your music lives, and then you create playlists to organize and sort the files into selections of music you actually want to listen to.  Your Google Docs Home works much the same way. You can move anything into as many "Collections" as you choose, but if you delete something from the Home list, which is the root level, it disappears from everywhere. So how does one tame the monster list of documents?

Two Google updates ago, there was an "Actions" button that allowed you to do some things to documents once you checked the box next to them. For reasons that are unclear to me right now, I never bothered to figure these out. I might have used the "Remove from my Documents List" a couple times when students inadvertently shared things with me that I didn't need to see, but that was about the extent of my use with Actions.

Fast forward to the newest Google update...if you haven't clicked "Try the new look" yet, give it a shot! The look and feel is quite different, and definitely cleaner and simpler, in my opinion. Different types of docs are still color coded: documents are blue, spreadsheets are green, and presentations are red. Since I made the switch, however, the batch options under "More" (as well as the color-coding) seem to be much more obvious.

Look at the screen shot to the right, and it looks the same as Actions used to, right? But this newer version feels easier. Perhaps it's because the platform itself isn't brand new to me anymore, and now that I have more experience, I am more actively looking for ways to make it efficient for me. Perhaps it's because, as the teacher who introduces it to the youngest students in our school for the first time, I have to really know what I'm doing so I can set them up for success. Regardless of the reason, however, I really like this new version and am using more of the tools now. So, I created a few new collections for this year's classes, started moving student documents into them, and then I multi-selected an entire batch of assignments and chose "Don't show in home." The documents still exist, and I can easily get to them within my Collections, but I don't have to always see them in the master list any more. This makes my Google Docs area function much more like the Documents folder on my hard drive, only showing me the contents of folders I want to view. Annoying problem solved!

This is also, for me, a good organizational strategy moving forward. Whenever a new assignment comes along that all my students share with me, I immediately create a Collection, move the docs in there, and then remove them from the Home list. I can quickly lose track of things in one giant list, but this way, the list doesn't ever have to grow so long. Because my storage capacity in Google Docs is so large, at the end of the year, I can just create a new Collection called 2011-2012, and move all of this year's Collections in there.

Now...I have to go back and apply this process to the dozens of docs I have from last year. Wish I'd figured this out sooner!  If you're one of those who finds the ginormous list distracting, overwhelming, or annoying, give this a try. If your students need some organizational strategies because their docs list is growing out of control, share it with them as well.

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