Collaboration Falls Apart: I’m Still Learning

flickr photo shared by russellstreet under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Earlier this year (which was actually last school year), I wrote about using Google Slides as a collaborative space for writing poetry with four full classes of students over the course of a day. It was a great idea that failed rather miserable and ended in chaos. You can read about it here.

You’d think I’d have learned my lesson, but no … Actually, I hoped I had learned my lesson. But I tried something similar again this past week with my new class of sixth graders, only to sort of fail … yet again. Sigh.

Welcome to Sixth Grade title

On the first day of school this week, before my sixth grade students had activated their school Google Apps for Education account, I set up a Google Slideshow, made it a public document for anyone to contribute without logging in, linked it off our class blog site, and assigned each student three slides (four, if you count their name slide). I did, in fact, remember what I learned from the past failure. I made sure that each student had a designated space inside the slideshow, with their names right on the slides. (Each student’s task was to create a slide of something they did in the summer, a six word memoir and their favorite “media”)

I walked my students through the process of how to use Google Slides (only one student in my class had ever created a slideshow, ever, which is interesting .. and the pattern for my other three classes as well, it turns out). I presented a mini-lesson on using Creative Commons for the search for images, and how to add the links to photos inside the slides as attribution points. I showed them my example as a mentor text.

Summer Moment

And then I set them loose for the next hour.

For about 30 minutes, it was beautiful. They were engaged, helping each other out, and I was wandering around, talking to them about their summer and their memoirs, and giving help with finding and using images. We talked about design elements of slides. They were having fun.

Six Word Memoir

Then, someone tried to use spellcheck.

Now, let me say, I was quite happy they found spellcheck. It meant they were checking their writing. They noticed the red squiggles. They wanted to fix a mistake. But when they tried to spellcheck their own slide, the tool jumped them to other slides in the collaborative show, and either they began to hit “back” or “delete” or something to get back to their own slide, and suddenly, entire slides — not their own — were disappearing.

There was that murmuring energy that begins slow and then builds into crowd confusion. No teacher wants to sense that in the room, believe me.

Keep calm, I said to the class, as hands were now raising into the air. We’ll figure this out.

I helped a few with the “undo” button, but that only worked if I was with the student who did the accidental edit. If it was a student whose slide disappeared in front of them because of someone else’s actions, the undo button didn’t work.

Luckily, we were now near the end of our time, and so I announced, in my confident teacher voice, that we would be stopping for the day and I would try to go back in time with Google Slide history/revision, and find the missing pieces (I’m making it all out to be worse than it is, but I am still not sure how many slides got deleted). I expressed confidence in the auto-save.

Alas, because they were all anonymous guests, working at the same time, the revision history only went so deep, and I can’t traverse back to the time (even when going into advanced revision history) where the slides went kaput. What’s missing is still missing, and may remain missing. I’m still looking.

Here’s the thing. While I am disappointed again at how collaboration failed, I realize later I accomplished some of my goals for the lesson:

  • All of my students now have a basic understanding of how a slideshow works;
  • We started discussions around digital design with text and image;
  • They can find images with Creative Commons tags and use those images, with attribution;
  • They understand that we will be using technology for collaboration projects this year, and that means working together;
  • Sometimes, the technology just doesn’t do what we want it to do — either through our own actions, or mistakes, or through the technology’s limitations;
  • We keep on trying, and moving forward, and don’t panic;
  • Even the teacher, with the best-laid plans, doesn’t always have the answers to unexpected problems, at least in the moment when problems arise.

I am back to thinking about The Next Time I Do This and how to make this kind of collaboration work better for me, and for them. Yes, I am determined. Perhaps the solution is to have them create their own slides shows in their own accounts, and then port them into the collaborative show as a second step. That way, they always have their own versions.

They, of course, seem less concerned about it than I am. We’ve already moved on, activating their Google accounts and pushing forward.

Kids. Go figure.

Peace (in collaboration),

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  1. Very entertaining, Kevin. The link to the previous round using Google Slides for a collaborative effort was even more hilarious.

  2. Kevin,
    I love knowing that others deal with tech “disasters” in the classroom too! And they always seem to have silver linings. So much learning happens in the chaos of the technology learning curve. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

  3. I love that you wrote about this failure. Some of us think you are a technology God and nothing ever goes wrong for you, so I’m glad to know you are only human. But also this shows us that we are all human, even kids. We’ll move forward and make a list of lessons learned.

    • Pshaw … things go wrong all the time, and I do try to write about it, if only to remind myself to remember the next time .. I don’t always remember but I do have a trail here of what I should have remembered …

  4. Something strange happened in our Slides experience as well. People’s slides disappeared and, because the students didn’t know what they had done and were anonymous, we couldn’t find the person who needed to undo. Like you, I had to think, and I asked each student to create their own slides document and create it on their own account. While they worked, I checked revision history and got most of them back. They then could find their recovered slide for info they’d already done. We deleted the old slides and students simply copied and pasted their new slides into the group slideshow. Other times, it’s worked great. Tech requires patience and flexibility. Thanks for sharing.

    • That is interesting … so, maybe it was not what I thought at all but some quirk in the Slides system with many anonymous users. Thanks for your insights and solution, Sheri

  5. Kevin, I recognize and applaud the fact that failure is but a steppingstone to success. We learn from our mistakes. What you described happened to me with adult learners who did not know the ins and outs of Google Docs but life goes on and we can laugh about issues later on.

  6. I wonder what would happen if you had them “draft” their contribution (chapter?) on their own Slides program and then do a copy-paste to insert into the class project? It would be so cool to have each kid place his/hers with the rest of the class looking on (projector?) and cheering each addition….

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