Using Google Documents to Allow for Inline Commenting

When the Blackboard was updated, many instructors were thrilled to see the inline commenting feature which allowed them to pinpoint their comments to a particular line or even word when grading an assignment. Did you know that Google Docs has a similar feature and it’s one of the best uses of Google Docs for collaboration?

How it can be used:

  1. One idea is to use the Google Docs for commenting on a reading assignment. This is a common task in a number of courses, where students have to express their thoughts on a particular article. This won’t replace the practice of properly citing and critiquing a scholarly article, but can definitely be used for a more engaging, collaborative commenting. See instructions below. It makes sense to unshare the article after the assignment has been completed. Another idea: you can also reuse it in subsequent courses, you can have students revisit their previous comments later in the same course to see if there was a change of heart or deeper understanding of the concepts; or as a sample for others.
  2. The other idea is to use this feature to gather feedback on a paper students are writing – much in the same way you would provide inline commenting while grading. A student would put their paper in Google Docs, and then instead of submitting a Word document as attachment or pasting the whole item into a discussion post, the link to the doc would be provided and students would follow it to comment. My guess is that with inline commenting it will be rather difficult to only give a “nice work!” type of feedback.

These are the obvious uses, but I am sure you can uncover more!

How to make it happen:

First, create an original document (student paper) in Google Docs or copy and paste an article (with proper citations and a note that states that makes it clear it is only for critiquing use under Fair Use Guidelines) into a new Google Doc.

Adjust sharing settings to be as follows:

  1. Under Share, click on Change…
  2. In Sharing settings, select “People at University of New England with the link” (especially for someone else’s article). Select “Anyone with the link” if students want to allow non-UNE accounts to access their paper.
  3. After you saved the previous setting, change the options to “Can comment”. This will save you a lot of headache, and besides, it is this feature that we are after!
  4. Copy and paste the link in either an announcement, discussion forum or some other course shared space for students to access. Each comment will carry the name of the author, so it’s easy to track.
  5. Notifications: In addition, you can have Google Docs email you when there are either replies to your comments or any comments at all. You can also turn off the notifications completely.
    notifications from google docs

    Access Notifications to select between All, Replies to comments, or None.

    Notifications. All replies to you. None

    I would recommend choosing All for using it in the course. Google Docs will send you a digest rather than each comment separately.

Let me know what you think and if you would like to try it in a course or two. I think the feedback from students will be extremely positive!

The original idea came from the Free Technology for Teachers blog. I would also look into using Google Docs for collaborative writing in small groups, much like Google Sites is used for group projects. Google Docs allows you to revert to previous versions, or to make copies of documents for private use when needed.

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