Collaborative Documents

Building community while engaging learners

What are Collaborative Documents?

Collaborative documents are  built by and shared with many editors. Example products include saved whiteboards, wikis, and documents where multiple authors have worked together synchronously or asynchronously to develop the written resource. Among the most familiar tools for creating collaborative documents are  Google Docs, easily accessible through the Google Drive account connected to your UA email.

A screenshot from a google docs page

How Can I Use Collaborative Documents  in My Course?

Students may work collaboratively in an online conference room (Zoom, Google Hangout or other)  Students can meet together synchronously with full audio and whiteboard capabilities in Zoom. Sessions can be recorded and whiteboards can be saved and exported for absent group members.  Break-out rooms in Zoom can provide the students with an arena to work together.

Shared References List (Google Docs)  You may ask your students to create a shared Google Doc or Sheet to collect reference citations for a topic of interest. Everyone who has the link or is invited to collaborate on the product has the opportunity to edit work that is there and compose/add his or her own entries.

Assignment draft markup (Google Docs) Google Docs allows team members to collaborate within a shared document.  Comments are a handy way of adding notes to your documents, spreadsheets, and presentations that are visible to viewers and collaborators. These can be invaluable for communicating with collaborators about specific parts of the document, as well as making notes about changes you’ve made or would like to make. Google has some good information on comments and discussions within collaborative documents.

Support and track Group Work (Wiki)  You may recommend that students on a shared project create a wiki that allows them to parcel up and track portions of the overall project. Alternately, you may want to create a wiki with this information and share it with the student.

“Wikis are unique among CMC (Computer Mediated Communication) tools. CMC tools such as discussion forums, synchronous CMC, email, and conferencing tools accommodate the collaborative discussion of ideas well, but students are typically expected to produce or perform some task outside the context of the CMC itself. The permanent retention of each iteration of posts in a wiki provides users the opportunity to explore the evolution of any wiki page, and, if deemed appropriate, replace the current version with a previous iteration. Wikis allow for the complete revision of text by any user. Thus, a contribution is not a comment or response (as it might be in a blog), but an alteration to the previous contribution. This means that a wiki-based text is in a constant state of potential collaborative change” (Kessler, 80).

How-to Instructions and DIY

Google products

  1. Ask yourself why the concept of “shared documents” or “collaborative documents” would be useful to you in the classroom.
  2. Decide whether going paperless will be valuable to you and outweigh the benefits of hard-copy evaluation.
  3. Go to your UA Google mail account and click on “Drive” in the toolbar to see the interface.
  4. Click on Create. Choose  the type of document you wish to create.  
  5. Invite participants: click on the blue “Share” button in the upper right.

Questions and Considerations

Building CommunityOften one of the most challenging aspects of an CTL course is getting students to interact as a class in an asynchronous environment. Many different tools can provide opportunities for students to share experiences, resources, and reflections. “Make students active participants in learning. Students learn by doing, making, writing, designing, creating, solving’ (Lucas 1990).  Also, providing a space for students to interact with each other and create together (with or without the instructor) fosters a cohort and  students’ sense of community.

Etiquette – since anyone with edit access to a document has the ability to invite other participants, you may wish to inform your students that they are explicitly requested to not invite participants from outside of the class. Alternatively, you can set the permissions to comment (versus edit). This will reduce the functionality.

How do I create a shared document? All UAF faculty, staff, and students have access to Google Docs.  You can learn more about Google Docs from Google Apps Edutraining page. See below for more tools for collaboration.


The following list contains a limited set of products that  allow shared contribution/collaboration:

  • Padlet – amazing white-board resource that allows images, movies, text, etc. Simple to set up, use and embed.
  • Wikis – the sheer number of wiki platforms across the web allows you to choose the one which works best for you.
  • Zoom – Zoom is integrated with Canvas, allowing you to schedule class meetings, or set up an open meeting room, from within your course. Zoom’s screen-sharing, whiteboard, and file transfer options are great for live collaboration.
  • “Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides are productivity apps that let you create different kinds of online documents, work on them in real time with other people, and store them in your Google Drive online–all for free. You can access the documents, spreadsheets, and presentations you create from any computer, anywhere in the world.’ —Google Docs Help
  • VoiceThread – a collaborative presentation tool that lets uses add, share, and discuss slides using video and voice.

Watch: Collaboration in the Google World

Instructional Designer Sean Holland describes one possible workflow for using Google Drive and Docs in an online classroom.