Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Introducing students to online office suites

Docs For many years, as part of our first year key skills module, we've run through the Microsoft Office suite applications. This was because we felt that MS Office provided the basic I.T. functions that our students should know, and because the MS suite is available to all UoL students under a campus licence. When we begin our new personal learning environment (PLE) strategy for students in September 2008, it's clear that MS Office on it's own no longer meets the job description (not to mention the problems that Office 2007 is causing).

I'm going to come back to presentation software and spreadsheets in a future post. In this post I'd like to concentrate on the basic word processing functions of an office suite. Our previous practice was to get students to download an MS Word document, carry out various formatting tasks (including spellchecking, inserting images and using the MS Equation Editor), print out one A4 page and hand it in. The hard copy was marked and the marks returned to students via the VLE gradebook, and on the hard copy if they wanted it back (about 50% of students used to collect the marked copy). Having paper in the system was always a pain, but the original idea was for students to demonstrate that they had the capacity to produce a printed document. (Yes, this exercise dates from the days when most essays were hand written and "the print queue" was a big deal :-) I've been struggling with a way to resolve online document sharing with the print requirement, and may have reached the conclusion that print just has to go...

To introduce students to a range of word processing software and online document sharing.

Students will receive an introduction to word processing software via the VLE incorporating information about and links to a range of office suites, including MS Office on the UoL servers, Google Docs and others (Zoho? Adobe Buzzword? Update: The more we played with Buzzword, the more we liked it).

Students will be required to open an account in their UoL username (or an assigned derivative if that account name is already taken) and to construct a personalized curriculum vitae based on a plain text pro forma (including formatting instructions) which they will download from the VLE. Google Docs will be used as an example of an online document suite, but students will be allowed to make their own choice of software.
On completion, they will share the finished document online with the markers. The markers will annotate the document online and return the marks to students via the VLE gradebook. Students will be assessed on:
  • Producing and sharing an online curriculum vitae
  • Following the formatting instructions in the pro forma, including insertion of specified images
  • and?
And that's all. Are we happy to abandon paper? Is sharing now more important than printing, and can we implicitly assume that students have the ability to produce hard copies of documents?

What could go wrong? Answers on a postcard below please.