Educational Tools,  Teaching & Learning

Alicia McCartney: Using Google Slides for Classroom Collaboration 

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Perhaps you already leverage small group discussions to powerfully engage your students in the classroom. Or, perhaps, like me, you’ve wondered: How do I push students towards more specific, quality discussion answers? In this post, I’ll share how I’ve used collaborative Google Slides in the classroom to encourage students to actively engage in analysis and problem-solving. 

Why use digital collaboration for discussions? 

I began implementing small group student discussions in the classroom during my first year of graduate teaching after reading Stephen D. Brookfield and Stephen Preskill’s Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms (2nd ed., 2005). Brookfield and Preskill’s classic guide outlines numerous benefits to class discussions, including:  

  1. Fostering a positive and engaged classroom culture, 
  1. Developing students’ respectful listening skills, 
  1. Encouraging students to take ownership of their learning, and 
  1. Allowing them to problem-solve, synthesize, and apply concepts. 

Though students are doing most of the talking, small-group discussions still require the instructor to actively direct the conversation. In a well-managed discussion, students offer accurate, specific, and detailed answers that enhance the knowledge of the rest of the class.  

I find it helpful to assign student small groups (2-6 students) a specific task, challenge, or question then ask them to take notes and present their answers back to the group. For my literature courses, I’m usually asking students to find and analyze specific quotes from the text or present in-class research. This technique could also be applied to many other disciplines, e.g., students could walk through their responses to a case study, problem, or controversy within your field. 

I began asking student groups to chronicle their discussion answers on Google Slides during the 2020 switch to HyFlex learning as it allowed students on Zoom to collaborate with in-person students. On this slideshow, I’ve copied the instructions/task/questions for each group. During the discussion period (usually 10-15 minutes), each group then creates a slide to present their answers to the rest of the class.  

How to set up collaborative slides 

  1. Before class, create a slideshow specifically for students to edit and collaborate (I make this distinct from the slides I use for lectures).  
  2. Set the sharing permissions so that students can edit the slideshow. If you prefer, you can invite all students from your course individually using their Cedarville email addresses. I find it easier to set the sharing settings so that anyone who clicks the link while logged into their Cedarville University email account can access the slides. 
  3. Copy the sharing link into a Canvas announcement and publish it for your class.
  4. Small groups can then open the announcement, log in to their Cedarville account, and contribute to their group’s slide. When you’re ready to pull everyone back into a whole-class discussion, click “Present” to show the slides to the class, and then ask the groups to talk about their slides.  
Google Slides sharing options showing the "Cedarville University" option selected
Settings to share a Google Slides presentation with a specific group (e.g., anyone in Cedarville)

Troubleshooting Tips: 

  • For this strategy to work, at least one person in each small group needs to have a charged laptop with Wi-Fi access. Multiple students can add to the slide, or one student can act as the “scribe” and take notes on the discussion. 
  • I also find that this activity works best in a longer class session. A fifty-minute class does not usually provide me enough time to set up the technology unless this is the only activity I have planned for the day.  
  • If students edit the slideshow after you hit “Present,” the projected slides will not update while in presentation mode. You will need to exit and re-enter presentation mode to show the class the most recent version of the slide. 

I’ve found that my students take discussions more seriously when they create a tangible product to show to the rest of the class. Plus, all students can use the link later to review the slides they created. 

I hope this strategy enhances your classroom as it has mine! 

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