Tuesday, 8 December 2009

What happens when you invite students to collaborate on a google doc....

Confused Sign
Originally uploaded by kudaker

..... and you use their university email address?

I've had a gmail account for years. I've used google documents with others for years. I've presumed that when I sent invites to universith colleagues to access a timetable in a google doc spreadsheet and fill in their availability etc, that this was quite an easy task to respond to. Although I had noticed that few people tended to actually add anything to the spreadsheet and emailed me back instead.

A few weeks ago, I invited the 7 students who I am working with on an audit project over the next year to collaborate on google documents. I used their university emails. Some of them could access the initial brainstorming document but they seemed to be denied access to to edit. Others couldn't even see the document. And a few 'asked permission' to edit, which I agreed to, although it seemed to be to the same email address which already had permission to edit! I was confused. They were confused.

So I decided to try it out for myself. I gave access to myself through my Cardiff Uni address to see how the process worked. This is what happened by way of my explanation to students:
"1. I received an email with a link which showed me the document and asked me to sign in with a google acount.
2. I didn't have a google account for Cardiff Uni address so I had to click to set one up.
3. I entered in Cardiff Uni email address and selected a password.
4. After a few minutes I received an email asking me to confirm that I had set up an account. When I clicked on this/logged in and clicked on docs, it looked as if the account was completely empty. There were no documents there.
5. I went back to the email with the link to the document. I clicked it and this time instead of being brought through to see the document I was told that I have been invited to share a document and I could click to accept or decline.
6. I accepted and was then able to go in and edit the document and invite others, and send all of you a mesage!
So if you are having trouble could you please follow these steps."

What have I learned? 1. If you invite someone to collaborate on a document and they don't already have a google account in that email address they might find the process more difficult that you think. It might be a good idea to instruct them to start by creating the google account.

2. I am so familiar with google accounts and documents that I assumed the process would be more striaghtforward to others than it was.

So, now for the question. What has been your experience of collaborating with students, or another group, who are unfamiliar with gdocs? What tips do you have?



  1. We have a problem with Google notifications to shared GDocs being bounced as spam by our university servers (mostly because they are sent from an external source to multiple recipients). To get around this, we use GMail addresses as much as possible, but there are no problems if you send messages to a single recipient.

  2. Google should probably tell people in advance that asking people with non-Google email addresses to participate on a Google document is prone to be more difficult than with a Google email account. Otherwise, this would appear to be an attempt by Google to promote use of its own email system. Question is, why is it more difficult to collaborate with those who have non-Google email addresses?

  3. We've had an issue collaborating on standardized patient cases among the faculty - some with, some without gmail addresses. The additional problem for us is that our university also has an account with Google (meaning the @school.edu domain has a separate, valid interface). This means that when we send links to Google docs to the @school.edu addresses, it takes them to a *separate* Google doc page, and we haven't quite figured out how to link them together.

  4. Thanks for the comments.

    @AJC So you ask students to set up the gmail address and then use that. My reservations would be that if students set-up an email address just to access something I suggest, they might never log-in again and will forget password etc.
    But perhaps I should have asked students to send me the email they are most likely to use day to day and invite them to that. I do think that some of my notifications to them might have been bouncing... will check.

    @David You have made me rethink my title/first sentence. I am not so sure that the problem is not having a gmail as not having set up a google account in the email address which is invited to collaborate. But as the other comments show there are some issues around .ac.uk and .edu google accounts.

    @madichan I don't think that Cardiff has an agreement like this. There wasn't really any problem when I used my Cardiff Uni account, except that not having established a google account for that address, made it just a bit more awkward to get to the document. And that is probably one of the issues that they students had.

    I'm just going to send them the link to this blog post so that perhaps I can get their insights.

    Thanks again.

  5. We get our students to use a range of Google services, Reader, Doces, etc, so GMail is available to them. (This isn't official policy, just little old me).

  6. @AJC Well, with my new Cardiff Uni email address google account, I do have access to google docs, and google reader. But I don't automatically have a gmail account without registering.
    How many of your students do set up gmail accounts?

  7. Oh! That last comment was from my new Google account!

  8. We ran into the same problem when setting up department calendar for everyone to enter their schedule into Google calendar. Using Gmail account as much as possible seems like the best solution.

  9. Hi Anne Marie - I've been using google docs and google reader on a google account based on my University email account rather than a gmail account without any problems for several years. We haven't used google docs with students yet at Dundee, but we'll be trying out for an SSC in the New Year trying the google doc plugin for a Ning group we're setting up. I'll let you know how we get on.

  10. You should look at Google Wave . It's their new technology for collaberative communication. It's still in the beta stage at the moment but worth checking out anyway as it is prone to be the next big thing.

  11. @Lin Thanks for your comment and interesting to hear that you have had some problems too.

    @Natalie I don't seem to have any problems myself accessing the docs but the students are still sending emails asking permission to look at individual docs although they should all have access via the invitation. This is what is confusing me. But I am glad you are having no problems and I look forward to learning all about the NING integration.

    I've been using google wave for a few months now but didn't think it was an interface that I could use with the students yet. It is a small group- 8 of us in total so it could work.
    My success so far on gwave has been a document with just two people editing. Real-time editing was quite nice.
    But I have found you on gwave now so will look forward to exploring!


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