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REALLY Preliminary Work: Word Clouds of Google TOS

Word Map #1: Google Apps for Education Terms of Service

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Word Map #2: Google Terms of Service

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REALLY Preliminary Work: Word Clouds of Google TOS

Word Map #1: Google Apps for Education Terms of Service

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 11.38.37 PM

Word Map #2: Google Terms of Service

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 11.38.54 PM

Review of Google Docs as Instructional Tool

Video Review


Google Apps for Education is a suite of cloud-based applications provided free of charge to educational institutions for their students and faculty. Among the applications are Gmail (email), Docs (word processing), Drive (cloud-based storage), Site (web pages), Slides (presentations), Sheets (spreadsheets), and Calendar (Google, ca. 2014a). This review addresses the individual and collaborative composing affordances of Google Docs and the group sharing affordances of folders in Google Drive. While Google Docs and Google Drive are free-standing applications available to anyone with a Google account, this review focuses specifically on the tools as part of Google Apps for Education.


Google and campus IT departments collaborate to install Google Apps for Education to become students’ (and optionally, faculty’s) default email and file-sharing applications. The Google Apps for Education benefits page insists that, when installed, “Your data belongs to you” (Google, ca. 2014a.) Closer reading of the Google Apps for Education Agreement indicates that data are stored on Google servers that are not necessarily on U.S. territory, and that location of the storage facility itself is not determined by the campus IT department (Google, ca. 2014b). Campus decisions to implement Google Apps for Education are fraught with competing issues of price (free) and convenience (very) pitted against data access, location, and institutional control.

Campuses that elect to install Google Apps for Education make available the free suite of applications to their students. Email addresses are tied to the campus student information system (e.g. Banner or PeopleSoft) and used as Google Accounts to provide access to the applications. File sharing services that may originally have been handled by on-site servers (like a shared drive) transition to cloud-based Google Drive, with free accounts providing gigabytes of data storage per account.


As Google’s cloud-based word processor, Google Docs is deeply integrated into Google Drive; Google Docs is among native applications available in Google Drive when creating a new file (other applications include Presentation, Spreadsheet, Form, and Drawing; see Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Native applications available in Google Drive. Screen capture of ODU Google Drive interface.

As a word processing application, Google Docs uses a relatively familiar interface that resembles locally-installed applications like Microsoft Word or Familiar menu items and icons represent standard functions, and the on-screen layout represents the printable surface of the document, complete with margins and page borders (see Figure 2).

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Figure 2: Google Docs interface resembles standard application interfaces. Screen capture of an untitled document in ODU Google Docs.

Google Docs’ print output features don’t match those of stand-alone  applications like Microsoft Word. Such limitations are well documented (Jesdanun, 2013; Leonard, 2014); among them are limited header and footer formatting (important for academic assignments), limited table of contents, and limited pagination options. Since Google Docs is web-based, its functions are limited to standard or proprietary HTML affordances.

Beyond print output constraints, Google Docs is a capable, easy-to-use, free word processor. It affords standard functions like copy, cut, and paste, font styling, list numbering, tab defining, and much more. It functions as a drag-and-drop application: images, videos, and other media files are easily added to the Google Doc either by selecting a file or by dragging it into the document. Because its interface resembles most stand-alone application interfaces, newcomers to Google Docs can quickly start creating documents.

Google Docs in the Classroom

Google Docs excels in sharing and collaboration. Files are easily shared from within the document using the upper-right “Share” button (see Figure 2) with the public, with members of the institution, or with specific individuals using an email address. Since a free Google Account can be tied to any email address, anyone with an email address can access a Google Doc. Google Drive affords customized group and individual sharing and permissions at the folder and file levels, so entire folders of Google Docs (and other files within a folder) can both inherit parent folder permissions or have custom permissions set.

Sharing a Google Doc means that those given appropriate permissions may access and edit the file simultaneously. Simultaneous access and editing gives Google Docs a clear advantage over other word processors. Microsoft Word, for example, can share files and track changes, but only a single user may access the file at a given time. Google Docs tracks every change made by every user, and every change can be undone by rolling the file back to any previous state. The document is saved automatically after every change as long as stable internet access is available, so there is little concern about losing data as a result of unsaved changes.

Google Docs affords unlimited commentary on highlighted text passages, and comments can be threaded to at least one level in subsequent responses. Comments can also be marked as resolved, an action that clears the on-screen comment thread but saves the entire comment text for access as needed. Users can respond to comments asynchronously or in real time during a composing session. In addition, synchronous in-document chat is available, meaning users can “text” one another as they work together on a document. The combination of collaborative tools makes Google Docs and Google Drive a versatile tool that affords group composing activities in synchronous and asynchronous contexts.


As noted earlier, an institution’s decision to enter into an agreement to offer Google Apps for Education is fraught with questions of participant agency and data ownership. Even before a teacher makes decisions about using Google Docs for collaboration and composing, institutional administrators should recognize confluences that require cross-disciplinary and cross-departmental discourses involving IT departments, curriculum specialists, teachers, administrators, and students. All of these stakeholders in a distributed learning implementation should be encouraged to contribute to an ongoing conversation about best practices and lessons learned via implementation (Neff & Whithaus, 2008). And once the institution implements Google Apps for Education, the implications to students in the context of the class should be considered and communicated in the syllabus.

Google is a for-profit multinational corporation whose ultimate goal is to generate profits for its stockholders. Entering into a business relationship with Google has costs that may not appear in institutional accounting spreadsheets, but will emerge in terms of power relationships between Google and the institution regarding data ownership, location, and access. More directly, as DePew and Lettner-Rust (2009) point out, asking students to use any technology inherently “shapes the power relationship between instructors and students[;] interfaces cannot be perceived as neutral or innocent” (p. 175). The goal of the decision to bind one’s institution to Google for its services and one’s students to Google Docs for its affordances should be one and the same: to empower end-users to make pedagogy-driven decisions about course content that are complemented by affordances of the technology tool (Hewett, forthcoming; Cook, 2005; Hantula & Pawlowicz, 2004).


The decision to use Google Docs in the classroom should support the learning outcomes of the course. For online writing teachers, those outcomes include creating communities of inquiry that integrate cognitive, social, and teaching presence (Garrison & Vaughan, 2007); providing low-stakes student-centered composing opportunities and engaging student and instructor feedback (Warnock, 2009); reinforcing “critical and liberatory pedagogies” (Reilly & Williams, 2006, p. 59); and teaching and exemplifying meta cognitive reflection on the technologies themselves as applied rhetoric (DePew, forthcoming). Google Docs and Google Drive, as applications in Google Apps for Education, support these outcomes.

Sharing folders and files supports the creation of a composing community focused on a common subject or object of inquiry. The teacher can create the shared environment using shared folders and a scaffolded writing assignment that requires file sharing among groups and associated feedback written work.

The comments feature in Google Docs affords rich commentary and meta-commentary from students and teachers alike throughout the composing process, from low-stakes feedback in invention, drafting, peer review, and revision, to formal assessment from the instructor. Comments afford multi-way conversations that empower students to respond to peer and teacher feedback.

Teachers can use Google Docs to reflect on the affordances and constraints of the technologies. By using the very technology they are assigned to critique, rich conversations about power politics, accessibility, availability, and other critical approaches can emerge and be facilitated by a trained, engaged teacher. More directly, Google Docs, like any other ICT in OWI, is both an object of critical analysis and a functional technology. As such, it affords opportunities to encourage students and teachers alike to practice applied rhetoric. And with the backing of the corporate behemoth that is Google, Google Docs provides a remarkably rich object of critical analysis and represents DePew’s (forthcoming) “pivot point where function and rhetoric merge” (n.p.).

As a result, I recommend that teachers in both OWI and f2f environments consider incorporating Google Docs in their classes as a free and capable word processor and a highly collaborative, student-focused composing tool that functions as both medium for collaboration and assessment and object of rhetorical study.


Cook, K. C. (2005). An argument for pedagogy-driven online education. In K. C. Cook & K. Grant-Davie (eds.), Online education: Global questions, local answers. Farmingdale, NY: Baywood Publishers. Baywood’s Technical Communications Series

DePew, K. E. (Forthcoming). Preparing instructors and students for the rhetoricity of OWI Technologies. In B. L. Hewett & K. E. DePew (eds.), Foundational practices of online writing instruction. Manuscript in publication

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2007). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines, (3-30). San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Google. (ca. 2014a). Google Apps for Education. Retrieved June 5, 2014, from

Google. (ca. 2014b). Google Apps for Education agreement. Retrieved June 7, 2014, from

Hantula, D. A., & Pawlowicz, D. M. (2004). Education mirrors industry: On the not-so surprising rise of internet distance learning. In D. Monolescu, C. Schifter, & L. Greenwood (eds.), The distance education evolution: Issues and case studies (142-162). Hershey, PA: Information Science Pub.

Hewett, B. L. (Forthcoming). Foundational principles that ground OWI. In B. L. Hewett & K. E. DePew (eds.), Foundational practices of online writing instruction. Manuscript in publication

Jesdanun, A. (2013, August 31). Review: Google Docs vs. Apple iWork vs. Office. USA Today. Retrieved June 6, 2014, from

Leonard, W. (2014, May 29). Review: Google Drive leads in features, lags in ease-of-use. InfoWorld. Retrieved June 7, 2014, from

Neff, J. M., & Whithaus, C. (2008). Writing across distances & disciplines: Research and pedagogy in distributed learning. New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reilly, C. A., & Williams, J. J. (2006). The price of free software: Labor, ethics, and context in distance education. Computers and Composition, 23(1), 68-90. doi:10.1016/j.compcom.2005.12.001

Warnock, S. (2009). Teaching writing online: How & why. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Authentic Learning & Google Drive

Rowe, M., Bozalek, V., & Frantz, J. (2013). Using Google Drive to facilitate a blended approach to authentic learning: Authentic learning and Google Drive. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(4), 594-606. doi:10.1111/bjet.12063


google drive logo

Google Drive logo

This article “describes the use of Google Drive to create a blended learning environment” in which  “students completed authentic tasks that aimed to develop critical thinking” (p. 596). Using authentic learning as a pedagogical framework, the authors provide qualitative results to identify ways that Google Drive complemented and enabled authentic learning outcomes. They conclude that specific affordances of information communication technology (ICT) should be selected to meet specific pedagogical outcomes rather than shaping pedagogical principles around ICT affordances.


The authors describe a pedagogical refinement in a 2nd-year Applied Physiotherapy module at the University of the Western Cape. The refinement consisted of converting a didactic, lecture-oriented pedagogy toward a socially-constructed learning environment in which students actively engaged in authentic learning. Google Drive was selected as the ICT used to facilitate communication and learning, both of which occurred during and outside the class.

The authors identify three meaningful outcomes of the pedagogical enhancement and use of Google Drive:

  1. It transformed “student perceptions around learning,” enabling the facilitators “to help change how students perceived their own role in the learning process” (p. 601).
  2. It changed “power relationships as part of learning,” enabling students to openly and safely “explore their own understanding without fear of being exposed and shamed” for not always knowing the right answer (p. 602).
  3. It helped develop students’ critical thinking skills, enabling students to “grasp that knowledge is distributed and that the teacher is not the sole source of information” (p. 604).

The authors conclude that, if educators hope to improve critical thinking in students, they should seek first to change their pedagogy, develop authentic activities, and integrate those activities “across physical and online spaces” (p. 605) using ICT that complements the theoretical perspectives informing the pedagogy.


Although the object of study in this article was an applied physiology class, the practice of selecting ICT affordances to complement theoretically-grounded pedagogical principles applies across disciplines. The article’s focus on improving the application of critical thinking skills to real-world practices also applies to learning environments outside the clinical medical discipline.

And although I consider the sample size small (n = 12) and the methodology admits self-selection bias (students volunteered to participate in focus groups), the authors openly admit these limitations (p. 604) and, in so doing, invite larger-scale studies.

This article offers applicable advice to composition and rhetoric teachers seeking to draw parallels between academic and workplace writing. The article’s application of authentic learning principles in a clinical medical setting offers an intriguing model for considering authentic learning in FYC contexts, where assignments and assessments might be altered to highlight skills that are portable from academe to workplace.

As a result, I recommend that colleagues seeking to revise pedagogy to incorporate blended communications and learning read this article and take to heart its findings.

Reading Notes: The Rise of the Network Society

A text about network connectivity offered quite a few connections to aspects of my “real” (really virtual?) life outside of academe.

Higher Education

OK, so this isn’t exactly part of life outside academe. It’s the staff side of my professional position that drew a connection to the economic value of higher education in Castells’ (2010) illustration of the valuation process in the global economy. He writes, “Two key facts appear to be at work in the valuation process: trust and expectations” (p. 159, emphasis mine). Profits aren’t the primary indicator of value in the global economy. He uses the case of Amazon, which as of writing the 2000 edition had not yet turned a profit, as an instance of investor trust and expectation resulting in high stock valuation: “in spite of losing money, the institutional environment of the new economy… had won the approval and trust of investors. And expectations were high on the ability of the on-line selling pioneer to move into e-commerce beyond books” (p. 159). In the case of higher education, profitability is not the primary source of valuation (although recent decisions by accreditation agencies to shutter schools because they were no longer profitable is an interesting change of course). Instead, parent and student expectations of the long-term monetary and occupational value of education offered through institutions, along with trust (based on past history) that the school can provide an education that offers and holds that value define the way higher education institutions are “valued.”

Infographic: Does a Higher Education Guard Against Unemployment? Source: MintLife Blog

That said, I also drew connections to the erosion of authority (and perhaps trust) in higher education in Castells’ (2010) depiction of a flattened network of cultural expression in the integrated communication system of the network society: “it weakens considerably the symbolic power of traditional senders external to the system, transmitting through historically encoded social habits: religion, morality, authority, traditional values, political ideology. Not that they disappear, but they are weakened unless they recode themselves in the new system, where their power becomes multiplied by the electronic materialization of spiritually transmitted habits: electronic preachers and interactive fundamentalist networks are a more efficient, more penetrating form of indoctrination in our societies than face-to-face transmissions of distant, charismatic authority” (p. 406). While higher educators are likely to bristle at terms like “indoctrination” and “distant, charismatic authority,” the fact that higher education finds itself lagging behind other industries in transforming itself into a network enterprise is troubling. How long will higher education be able to “preach” its gospel of access, accountability, and value through local channels rooted in the space of places?

I don’t see this transformation limited to classroom experiences, either. Many fundamental organizational structures in higher education are vertical and hierarchical, not horizontal and collaborative. How long will the Richmond schools like the University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia State University, Virginia Union University, John Tyler Community College, Richard Bland College, and Reynolds College be able to differentiate our instructional products in the Richmond metropolitan area? At what point do the obvious synergies of labor talent, instructional content, and pedagogical practice become too obvious to ignore — and will collaboration and partnership be able to surmount historical boundaries of location and culture? And at what point does the Richmond metropolitan area either become part of either the greater Washington or greater Hampton Roads mega-city? And if it doesn’t become part of one or the other, will it be passed by as a node in the network society? At which point, will any of the higher education institutions, either collaborating or separated, survive? Castells’ depiction of the global informational economy makes the case for the need to restructure or die.

Google Drive


Infographic: Google Docs for Learning. Source: Edudemic

Maury and I will be presenting Thursday at the “Humanities Unbound” conference about the role Google Drive plays in re/defining identity in our composition classrooms. With thoughts about the role of Google Drive in my classroom lurking in the corners of my mind, I read the following statement Castells makes about ways multimedia support what I would now (in 2014) consider an adolescent (rather than emerging) social/cultural pattern. One of the characteristics Castells (2010) points out is that “communication of all kinds of messages in the same system… induces an integration of all messages in a common cognitive pattern…. From the perspective of the user… the choice of various messages under the same communication mode, with easy switching from one to the other, reduces the mental distance between various sources of cognitive and sensorial involvement” (p. 402, emphasis original). Castells appears to predict the blurring and merging of genre conventions as a characteristic of communication in the Information Age. Google Drive reflects just such blurring: is a Google Doc a word processing document or a web page? Maury and I have used Google Docs like web pages as much as, or more than, we have used Google Docs as word processing documents. While this appears to be an instance of reducing “the mental distance” between cognitive and sensorial involvement, the localized facts are more interesting. In my own class, there are two or three students who have embraced Google Drive as a multimodal tool for writing, revising, collaborating, embedding, and linking. These are students whom I would consider embedded in network enterprises. Other students in my class struggle to use Google Docs effectively or proficiently. These are students whom I would consider embedded in the space of places, localized, lacking adequate experiences, background, training, or tools to engage fully and deeply in the global informational economy. These are students I’m seeking to “indoctrinate,” because I worry that they will find themselves unlinked, passed by as lacking value in the global economy. Worryingly, several of these students embedded in the space of places work in higher education.


Everything You Know is Not Quite Right Anymore: Rethinking Best Web Practices to Respond to the Future from Doug Gapinski

I am a professional writer. This realization came as a surprise to me. I make money by writing, editing, proofreading, and managing web and other copy. I never thought I would make money from writing. I work on a team of four marketers, each with differentiated expertise and experience. We work as a collaborative team among what I would characterize as a vertically-structured collection of departments and divisions. While the fact that I work on a team that values and expects collaboration is not entirely germane to my next point, it explains the critical approach to higher education I shared earlier in this post.

As a professional marketer, I live out the reality that, as Castells (2010) puts it in “McLunanian” language, “the message of the medium (still operating as such) is shaping different media for different messages” (p. 368). My team develops different media for different messages. To attendees of regional graduate and professional school fairs we create a collection of integrated print pieces that focuses on the flexibility of our graduate degree programs, especially the ability to attend school part time while working in a related profession. To those who visit our site by clicking on ads we place on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google search results, the Google Display Network, and Bing search results, we craft webpages that are customized to each segmented audience. And to members of our Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for learners aged 50 and over, we print a larger piece that focuses specifically on their interest in engaging in the life of a traditional private liberal arts college campus. We don’t mix these messages or these media; we segment messages by target audience with a large degree of granularity, and we use distinct media to convey those messages.

Market segmentation is the reality. We now advertise in only two traditional “mass media” — radio and billboards. And we continue to funnel more funds toward segmented online advertising efforts and away from the mass media. We can target highly specialized audiences on online advertising platforms, and as a result we can expect better return on investment (ROI) for the dollars spent to capture prospective students. This, in turn, leads to greater segmentation as web visitors expect even more highly individualized marketing messages, and as technological boundaries expand to enable ever greater granularity in advertising and marketing.

I appreciated and enjoyed that Castells wrote about my professional world. That was cool and welcomed.


Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society [2nd edition with a new preface]. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Louisiana State University. (2013, September). LSU enrollment mgmt org chart 9 2013 [Illustration]. Retrieved from