The long road to organizing students’ Google Docs (and 3 lessons learned)

If a messy desk of papers is a cause of stress, then a messy drive full of files named “Untitled” is a recipe for existential crisis.

This is a lesson I learned the hard way when making the switch to a largely paperless classroom.

The purpose of the switch was to avoid those moments of panic where organizing, filing, or in some cases, searching for papers took time away from the real work of reading and responding to students.

My hope was more time, until that first class when I told students, “Create a Google Doc and share it with me by class time tomorrow.”

That was a Friday, and I was left with a weekend full of documents titled “English essay” and no efficient way to know who submitted their work and whose work I had read.

The solutions started small, borrowing tips from other teachers, hacking together Google Forms and Docs, and eventually diving into more complex technology like Google Apps scripts.

If any of those terms scare you, don’t worry…there’s a method for teachers at every level of technology competency.

The video above is the result of me scrambling for my organization sanity over a few years of using Google Docs to manage student work.

There are many ways to do this, but I’ve collected three here, ordered from least to most tech challenging…

  1. Ask students to use designated keywords in the title of their documents. Then, you search your Google Drive using these keywords.  Simple, but reliant on student compliance with directions.
  2. Create a Google Form with three fields: first name, last name, and link to assignment. Students submit their assignments by copying/pasting the link to their Google Doc into the form. You get student work organized neatly in a spreadsheet.
  3. Doctopus automatically creates folders for each student and for each assignment in a class.  View all assignments by a single student, or view all submissions of a single assignment.  This is basically an automated personal assistant for managing student writing.

What’s your system for organizing student work?  Share it below in the comments, and then we’ll have a big resource of organization systems for everyone to reference.

PS — Want to reserve your spot for my upcoming Google Docs for Social Learning Online Workshop? Click here to claim your spot.

6 thoughts on “The long road to organizing students’ Google Docs (and 3 lessons learned)

  1. Thank you for creating this informative video, Gerard. I am an avid user of Doctopus, so this portion was not new to me. You are right, it’s more complex and takes time to set up, but it’s been more than worth the effort for me.

    I have not used a form to collect the links to the documents my students create on their own – this idea may come in very handy – so, thank you! I have tried having the students open their shared folder (set up by Doctopus) and create the new document there so it’s automatically shared with me, but inevitably one or more forget this step and I have to track the link down. Since I am used to using the Doctopus spreadsheet accumulation of document links to quickly review/grade my students’ work, this would create a very similar feel and workflow. I think I’d probably also add the key directions for the assignment to the top section when creating the form as well (in the “form description” box), just to have everything in one place.

    Thank you for the inspiration and all your hard work sharing these tips.


      Jane…getting back to you late here, but hopefully you’ll still find this.

      I’ve tried having students create their own doc in the Doctopus shared folder, too, and it never seems to work out perfectly.

      The point about adding the directions to the top of the Google Form is a smart one that I’ll consider in the future.

      Thanks for your kind words! Interacting with other teachers is the best part of sharing these posts.

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