Home » 2020 Spring » Spring 2020 Meeting #2 Google Docs for Annotation and Close Reading

Spring 2020 Meeting #2 Google Docs for Annotation and Close Reading

Does Reading Matter? FIG Meeting #2

Facilitator: Michelle Gabay,

English (Esther.Gabay@kbcc.cuny.edu)

for the Faculty Initiative on Teaching Reading (FITR)

Does Reading Matter? FIG May 6, 2020 at 12:00

This week, we looked at Google Docs for close reading, synchronously and asynchronously, as an online annotating tool.


  • Learn how to use and embed active learning and reading technology into your emergency online course.
  • Think about ways to adapt and use Google docs for active and transactional reading activities
  • Learn how to create, share, and comment on Google Docs
  • Walk away with some idea about how you might adapt one reading exercise in Google docs

We started out with a quick tour of an online lesson using Google docs in Blackboard (via screen sharing) to show how one might embed (hyperlink) active reading assignments using Google docs on a Bb course site, and within a weekly lesson or module. In a f2f class, instructors have cultivated ways to engage students in class discussions and work through difficult readings and passages live. But in the online environment that can be more difficult, since online learning is often designed for asynchronous discussions, processes and assessments. To help scaffold reading assignments, embedding a reading activity or exercise through Google docs can help students’ process textual content and interact with reading materials in actively. It can also help instructors see how thoroughly individual students are reading and assess their comprehension.

The demonstration focused mostly on Google Drive and Google Docs for a laptop or desktop (PC or IOS). The mobile interface is designed differently, although it offers the same capabilities and functions.

Participants spent some time reading, commenting, and interacting with their colleagues on a PDF uploaded to Google Drive. Students can leave comments in the margins of the document if they select a section of text to zoom in on. When other students enter the document, they will be able to see and reply to notes students have already left in the margin. For the FIG, the facilitator left instructions at the top of the PDF to guide the activity, which is what she would do for her own composition course. Additionally, it is recommended that the instructor provide a short video that shows students how to comment on Google docs before they begin using this modality. Youtube offers a trove of “how to” videos, and one could easily create their own screencast “how to” video with Screencast-o-matic. It is important to note that Screencast-o-matic only offers closed captioning to subscribers who pay for the program though. One work-around is uploading your video to Youtube, which will generate captions for free.

After reading and annotating on the Google PDF, participants reflected on the process on another Google doc that was created specifically for reflection. The purpose of this portion of the FIG was to show Googles docs’ flexibility and showcase a number of ways one could use Google docs for asynchronous interactive activities. Participants and students could access the Google Doc whenever they wanted and edit the same document. To encourage a social and collaborative learning experience, the documents allow students to peek into each other’s writing and help each other along the way.

We worked on this reflective writing activity before we began our synchronous discussion.

Reflection: Hi everyone! After spending some time annotating Walker’s article, think about what you want your students to do or gain from the readings you assign in your class. Do you have any ideas about how you might want to use Google docs to scaffold/build towards this objective? If so, jot down some thoughts about what you’re looking for in your own class, and how you think Google docs might enhance the learning experience towards this end.

After participants finished writing their reflections, we spent the remaining time discussing our experience sharing on a Google Doc and talked about how we might use Google docs in our online classes. A number of points came up as we talked.

  • Some participants were reluctant to try G-docs because they worried it would confuse and overwhelm students, but noted that they might try it in future classes. It was also noted that creating a section in a module that links the G-doc easily migrates students directly to the activity with one click, without having to go to far from the LMS (e.g. Google Doc Sample Link).
  • One participant replied that students do well in courses that offer consistency and routine.
  • One advantage to using Google docs is that many of our students already come in with experience using Google Drive/Docs.
  • Another participant suggested making the annotation process “more transparent,” so students understand what annotating entails. This same participant also recognized the collaborative nature of Google docs, and appreciated its potential to bring students together at a time when we are all being asked to social distance.
  • Another participant noted difficulties using the mobile Google Docs app and found it was not very user-friendly.

(Admittedly, the interface on the app is quite different from the desktop version of Google docs. Both require some practice and familiarization before asking students to work with the modality.)


We’ll be meeting again on May 20 at 12:00pm to discuss ways we might use Blackboard’s Discussion Board for close reading. If you’re interested in joining this last FIG session of the semester, please reach out to Esther.Gabay@kbcc.cuny.edu for connection info.

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