Tech-geeks can sometimes get a little over-excited about using “cool new technologies.” When it comes to new media writing technologies, I also sometimes have this response: “Look how cool it is! Let’s use it in class!” Most of us who have had to use a wiki or Google docs or some other online writing collaboration tool find that the classroom can be much better at pointing out the kinks in a program than highlighting the usefulness of it. Recently though, I used Google Docs with a classmate to write a six-page essay critiquing an academic article. We wrote the whole paper in an hour, and we were amazed at how quick and productive the whole process was. It was a kind of writing high—something that a lot of people, even English majors, don’t always experience when they’re writing. As we talked about the Google Docs experience, though, it became clear that some of the success of our one-hour writing sprint had to do with the technology, but some of it just had to do with the way we had prepared.
The technology itself allowed us to write with each other at the same time in the same document. It helped that we were also sitting next to each other at the coffee shop, but really we spent more time typing than talking. She pasted in an introduction from a handout we had made previously, and I expanded it out while she wrote the next two paragraphs. Then as she wrote the conclusion, I was able to add in the rest of the body paragraphs. In between, we revised each other’s paragraphs so that the paragraphs would flow together. It just seemed to be a writing groove that Google Docs enabled precisely because we were working on a single document at the same time—writing with and over each other.
The catch, though, is that we didn’t start writing completely unprepared. Before we wrote this paper, we had presented the same content to our class. We also created a handout for that presentation. It took us approximately 4 hours (all together) to prepare all the material. Our Google Docs paper was essentially the flushed out version of the handout we created. So even though it seemed to only take us an hour to write this paper, really it was the final product of 5 to 6 hours work.
Still, Google Docs is awesome. You should use it. In class if you can.