THU: Tomorrow's Digital Scholar: Using Google Docs To Promote Collaboration In Secondary School English (Jonathan Brown).

Cloud created by:

Mr Jonathan G Brown
8 January 2018



Tomorrow’s Digital Scholar: Using Google Docs to promote Collaboration in Secondary School English

The advent of Web 2.0 technologies in recent years has prompted a shift in academic practices, the openness and networked participation afforded by such tools leading to the emergence of what has been dubbed ‘the digital scholar’ (Weller, 2011).  Technologies such as social media, blogging platforms, and collaborative writing software have provided digital scholars with unprecedented access to synchronous collaboration and real-time feedback, with vast networks of peers facilitating a constant process of creating, sharing, commenting and revision (Yamamoto and Karaman, 2011). As Higher Education institutions begin to adopt such practices, and Web 2.0 tools are increasingly ‘becoming popular in teaching and learning environments’ (Brodahl and Hadjerrouit, 2011), notions of what it means to be a learner are in a state of transformation.  Digital tools have the potential to support learning in ever more innovative ways, ‘mark[ing] a step change in the ways in which learners can interact with and on the web’ (Selwyn, 2008), and encouraging a pedagogy that is open, participatory, and collaborative.  The educational landscape is evolving, shaped, in part, by the digital scholar.

This has implications for the Secondary School Teacher, who is expected to ‘demonstrate a critical understanding of developments in the subject and curriculum areas, and promote the value of scholarship’ (Department for Education, 2011).  As the definition of ‘scholarship’ changes to include the practices and pedagogies of digital scholarship, and more school-leavers than ever before are going on to study at university (UCAS, 2016), teachers have a responsibility to ensure that their learners – the digital scholars of tomorrow - are adequately prepared in the tools and practices used in Higher Education and beyond. 

Many teachers are keen to embrace this responsibility, and there is evidence from the UK (Penney, 2017) and beyond (Woodrich and Fan, 2017) that some secondary institutions are already making innovative use of Web 2.0 tools to further open and collaborative teaching methods.  Despite this, there remain barriers to ensuring that tomorrow’s digital scholars are adequately prepared, including school cultures that discourage risk, a lack of confidence with Web 2.0 technologies amongst staff, and the absence of a support network to exchange ideas and to share examples of best practice (Kirkland and Sutch, 2009).

The conference presentation will demonstrate how a short multimedia course is being designed to negotiate some of these barriers.  Aimed at the Secondary English teacher, who is ideally placed to promote the creative and collaborative practices of digital scholarship, the online course uses the open-source Learning Management System, Canvas, to demonstrate how Google Docs can be used effectively in the classroom for collaborative writing.  Providing not only a guide to using Google Docs to promote collaborative writing, but a virtual environment for colleagues to exchange innovative examples of best practice, the course will offer one of many possible ways in which Secondary practitioners can nurture the skills of tomorrow’s digital scholar.


Word Count: 481



Brodahl, C. and Hadjerrouit, S. (2011) ‘Collaborative Writing with Web 2.0 Technologies: Education Students’ Perceptions,’ Journal of Information Technology Education, vol. 10, pp. 1–31 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 21 November 2017).

Department for Education (2011) Teachers’ Standards Guidance for school leaders, school staff and governing bodies, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 10 November 2017).

Kirkland, K. and Sutch, D. (2009) ‘Overcoming the barriers to educational innovation A literature review’, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 28 November 2017).

Penney, S. (2017) ‘Open Scholarship,’ education2017, 10 October [blog]  Available at (Accessed 16 November 2017).

Selwyn, N. (2008) ‘Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning,’ Epsrc, vol. 20, no. October, pp. 162–165 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 10 November 2017).

 UCAS (2016) Record numbers of 18 year olds accepted to university this year, UCAS report shows | Undergraduate | UCAS [Online]. Available at (Accessed 5 December 2017).

 Weller, M. (2011) The Digital Scholar - How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice, Boomsbury Open Access [Online]. DOI: 10.5040/ (Accessed 15 June 2017).

 Woodrich, M. and Fan, Y. (2017) ‘GOOGLE DOCS AS A TOOL FOR COLLABORATIVE WRITING IN THE MIDDLE SCHOOL CLASSROOM,’ Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, vol. 16, no. 16, pp. 391–410 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 19 November 2017).

Yamamoto, G. T. and Karaman, F. (2011) ‘On the Horizon Education 2.0’, On the Horizon, vol. 1910748121111138300, no. 2, pp. 109–117 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 2 August 2017).

Extra content

Embedded Content

Accessible Conference Poster

Accessible Conference Poster

added by Mr Jonathan G Brown


Richard Sharp
12:22am 18 January 2018 (Edited 12:26am 18 January 2018)

Hi Jonathan,
You suggest that the digital scholars of tomorrow must develop the correct practices for their future.   
Do you think this means that curriculum design must reflect a social learning pedagogy and have collaborative activities centrally-placed in this design - including making those practices compulsory or graded?  Is there an equitable place, for instance, in a Secondary English collaborative learning environment for a reflective, solitary, student author?  :)

The compulsory part of this question relates to the topic of my project :)

Mr Jonathan G Brown
8:51am 18 January 2018

Hi Richard,

That's a really good question, as I was very much that 'reflective, solitary, student author' when I was at school; I really couldn't see the point in group work, as I worked much better on my own!  I think that the 15 year old me would have benefited from collaborative tasks being graded (they were already compulsory, or I wouldn't have done them!), providing an explicit incentive even when the long-term benefits weren't immediately clear.

The problem we have now, I feel, is that secondary school assessment is too much geared towards the individual student author, not taking into account the changing modes of working that have been accelerated by Web 2.0 technologies.  For the most part, this is due to the traditional exam system that we still have, with nearly all coursework now replaced by terminal exams.  There's little official recognition for collaborative work.  Perhaps if social learning was made more compulsory and graded in school-based assessments, exam boards / government might begin to change examinations to reflect this?

Steve Penney
2:25pm 20 January 2018


In my use of google docs and google communities I have stayed away from visible assessment.  The discussions I had with A level students involved showed that they wanted a mix of public and private feedback on thier work. While they were keen to be directed to resources and to up load completed work they valued the one to one specific feedback from the teacher.

They are as I am and as you mention Jonathan very aware of the very formal assessment criteria that the examination boards work to.

I felt that this was thier choice, and while they do comment on each others posts on the community   these are by agreement judgement free.  There is not doubt though that they like the use of this technology and that it provides an almost endless set of resources for revision.

Mr Jonathan G Brown
9:12pm 20 January 2018

Hi Steve,

I think you're absolutely right, the notion of public feedback can be very off-putting for students! I'm looking at a very different use of Google Docs, though; rather than an individual sharing work with others for collaborative peer assessment, I'm suggesting that multiple students work togther to create a single document as co-authors - which could then be assessed.  This assessment wouldn't have to be shared beyond the authors, and could provide a single grade for the whole team - perhaps negating student anxiety as to their performance, as the grade is shared?

Contribute to the discussion

Please log in to post a comment. Register here if you haven't signed up yet.