Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Using Google Tools for Collaboration

Through Google tools like Drive, Docs, and Slides, students can collaborate on content and activities, which educational research and sociocultural theory suggest can positively influence their learning (John-Steiner and Mahn,1996). Research suggests that use of Google tools can have a positive impact on a class’s sense of community (Gainer, 2010), as these tools host a variety of activities like brainstorming, peer review, resource sharing, and live chat.

Yale has a free organizational account called EliApps which allows any instructor to utilize Google tools for their classroom. Instructors can also set up Google Drive to manage Google documents using folders, perhaps for setting up course folders and integrating appropriate documents. Instructors can choose to make particular folders available to students or protected from their view, depending on the intended audience. Further, instructors can generate shareable links to all documents and provide them to students through e-mail, and/or integrate them into a course learning management system platform.


  • Whole-class brainstorming sessions or individual-student responses - Instructors can ask students to respond to a whole-class brainstorm on a particular topic using a centralized Google doc, or they can ask individual students to post their responses. These brainstorms can be displayed anonymously to the entire class to encourage dialogue as well as to document major points of discussion. 
  • Sign-in or sign-up sheets - Google Sheets can be used as a sign-in or sign-up tool for monitoring attendance or allowing students to sign up for groups, topics, meetings, and more. 
  • Group work - If students are researching a particular topic, developing a written assignment, or completing other items where online collaboration is useful, they can use Google docs to view what others in the group have written, and maintain a record of what has been done. 
  • Resource sharing - Google Drive can be particularly useful for sharing resources. For example, students may want to save particular articles or other documents related to their classroom work. A folder can be set up in Google Drive so that students can archive such resources. 
  • Peer review - Google Docs has peer-editing capabilities. Students can type their written assignments into a Google doc and their peers can edit the document or suggest changes.
  • Presentations  - When students are given a PowerPoint presentation in class, they can use Google Slides to develop and modify the presentation. Use of Google Slides also enables students to retrieve the presentation remotely. 
  • Data Analysis - Through Google’s Ngram Viewer, Correlate, and Trends, students can informally track patterns and incidents for a range of cultural data, in order to inspire class conversation, pursue collaborative research, or predict trends based on content learned in previous classes. 


  • Present the tools to students as an option - Instructors may find that students already have experience using Google tools for collaboration. Thus, for any group work assignment, they can present these tools as an option which can be utilized for collaboration. Instructors might strategically disperse students more experienced with Google into different student groups.
  • Require or Encourage Tutorials - Google offers short video tutorials on a number of its free products that can assist students less experienced with Drive, Docs, or other features. 
  • Create a class Google Drive folder - Instructors can consider creating a Google Drive folder for each class to file course material, including lecture notes, required reading, additional reading, and images/texts discovered by students. As the number of files increases, instructors can be careful about using title conventions so as to maintain organization. 
  • Link to Canvas course site - Google collaboration documents can each be given a designated URL, which can be linked to Canvas or other course sites to enable student access at any point. 
  • Protect files as appropriate - Google sheets may be protected, that is, only made accessible to certain individuals after a particular date. The ability to protect can be useful in Google Sheets for sign-up sheets, etc. where changes are not allowed after a certain date.  
  • Accessibility Awareness - Instructors utilizing Google and related digital technology should be aware of student accessibility concerns, and provide dynamic policies to support students who are print- disabled, technologically inexperienced, or barred from maintaining their own electronic devices.


Gainer, B. (2010). Using Google Docs as a Teaching Tool. Teaching Professor 24.8: 2.

John-Steiner V and Mahn H. (1996). Sociocultural approaches to learning and development: A Vygotskyian framework. Educational Psychologist 31(3-4):191-206.