The Incredible Potential of Google Docs and WordPress: Now Commonly Used But Un-Maximized Tools!

I decided not to venture out too far from the ground Jeff has covered in past sessions – I’m looking for platforms and tools that can facilitate collaborative writing toward a product for a particular assignment, and find Google Docs (which I used this past semester, though not to its fullest) and WordPress to be useful for my assignment – so I mined Jeff’s “Links” section for guides and models using both of these. 

Under the “Blogging and Annotation” heading on the links page, you’ll see an open source draft of the soon-to-be-published academic book Web Writing that uses CommentPress, a WordPress plugin, to facilitate an open peer review process from any reader (even me!). The book is written by academics who use web writing in their courses, and the chapter “Collaborative Writing, Peer Review, and Publishing in the Cloud” by Jack Dougherty (a professor of education at Trinity College) is a fantastic model of constructive group feedback to a writer’s work and a very helpful how-to guide in using both Google Docs and WordPress in the classroom to facilitate learning together.

Dougherty not only embeds visual and video examples of features, but he provides contexts and rationales for the pedagogical use of these features by explaining how and why he used them for particular assignments. I wonder if this kind of mult-imodal text interactivity would be appropriate for student work (I’m thinking definitely!). Exploring the multi-modality of traditional text-based essays is certainly more possible if final pieces are submitted via WordPress. 

We can see these assignments in more detail on his extraordinary blog which he uses as a central hub for his course (a separate one for each course). From this page, you can navigate to view assignments and student work, which consists of shorter form blog entries as well as larger research projects that have actually been published. You can also see Jack’s own site, which serves as a platform for his scholarship and links to other courses he has taught (and created separate hubs for on WordPress). To me, this is a really powerful hacking of the traditionally closed systems of both scholarship and teaching: not only can you see how students have been able to “write on” each others’ work, and how Dougherty himself allows you to do the same with his own scholarship (a wonderful example of practicing what you preach and of opening up the process of academic publishing to include a potentially wider variety of voices), but you can share your work with anyone. The simple fact that I am able to view Dougherty’s work and to take from him what I find to be useful is astounding to me. 

The potential value of these tools/platforms to help my students to create work together for an audience that is not just me is enormous; the downside, which Jeff has mentioned previously, is the number of hours it would require to initially set up a course hub like Jack has done. Once the front end work is done, however, it seems like communication between student and teacher and between students and each other is made easier. My FITT project is a collaborative rhetorical (or possibly discourse) analysis of an object – in the past, this has been an individually composed text-based essay of an advertisement. With the possibility of having multi-modal products submitted via WordPress, perhaps the object of analysis could shift. I’m interested in asking students to analyze the rhetoric of a web site’s design (interactivity, user accessibility, etc) or, alternatively, the development of a news story across media (how do different programs shape this supposedly fact-based story?). This final option seems particularly ripe for the kind of collaborative web writing seen in Dougherty’s work. Thoughts?


4 thoughts on “The Incredible Potential of Google Docs and WordPress: Now Commonly Used But Un-Maximized Tools!

  1. Splendid post with lots of good ideas. You’re right that there is a lot of front-loaded work to doing what Jack does in the classroom: a) getting hosting (I recommend Spoke, as I mentioned in an earlier post); b) mastering the basics of WP installation and interfacing with the server via FTP (not hard, but not dead simple either); and c) enabling “multi-site” within WP (this is a bit tricky, requiring a bit of manipulation of PHP code: you don’t need to know PHP, or any other language, but you do need to carefully follow directions on the WP Codex and it helps to have a buddy to bail you out if you get lost).

    The bonus is that once you do all that, you can do damn near anything. I would also look at the work of Mark Sample and Ryan Cordell as examples of what lit profs are doing with this open-access, inscriptive mode of teaching, what Mark calls “building and sharing.”

  2. Thanks for reading my work and posting your thoughts, which I saw thru the automatic “track back” feature of WordPress (another advantage of sharing scholarly communication online). The co-editors of Web Writing and I are building the final book manuscript, which is openly accessible through our PressBooks platform at This WordPress-based tool allows readers to view text in their browser or download PDF, ePub, or Kindle editions.

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