How Google Docs almost made life easier for me in college

My first experience with Google Docs was in 2016 when I “worked” for 2 weeks at the African Leadership University (ALU) in Mauritius. I was required to write in Google Docs and design presentations in Google Slides with a team. The experience of 2+ people working remotely AND simultaneously on one document or presentation was so seamless, I fell in love instantly.

Fast forward to a few months later, while I was busily attempting to graduate from school; juggling with class, exams, my thesis and boyfriend responsibilities, something glaringly interesting hit me. Something related to my final thesis. If you did your final year thesis in KNUST, I am sure you have mild PTSD from the mere thought of the stress you went through. Why were we wasting so much time moving back and forth? On the average, I would spend 2 hours trying to meet with my supervisor, and end up spending a maximum of 10 minutes actually being with him, that is if I was lucky enough to see him in the first place. It was a waste of valuable time.

Speaking of waste, why was I using up so much paper anytime I had to meet my supervisor for a review? I print, he makes comments, I make the corrections and print the updated document, he makes comments, I make the corrections, I print the updated document, and it goes on. Here’s the irony – I was an Environmental Science student working on waste management. I feel bad for anyone who worked on deforestation.

Back when the thought hit me, I had a solution in mind although I knew it was wishful thinking or at best, looking too far into the future. The solution was simple – go digital. Share your work in Google Docs or in Microsoft Word and have it reviewed by your lecturer or teaching assistant at their own convenience. Teaching assistants are mentioned here because if there is any hope of this technology being adopted in our tertiary instructions, they would be the ones likely to embrace it. Both applications allow the viewer to comment on or edit any part of the document. Saves everyone the time and significantly reduces the frequency of having to meet. This is just one of the benefits Google Docs would have afforded me if all parties concerned were on board with it.

My experience in Mauritius and a few stories I heard prior to final year justified my decision to write 95 per cent of my final year thesis in Google Docs. I heard scary stories about people losing all their work because their computers crashed or some other unforeseen event wiped everything. Heading into final year, I chose to pack my things into the cloud. First to prevent the eventuality of losing anything and secondly to save myself the hassle of carrying my cement bag of a laptop everywhere because my work was synced across all devices and on the internet. All I needed to do was to login to any internet-connected device with my Gmail account details and voilà, I could continue from where I left off in the cloud. I guess it was with no coincidence that Jesus advised to save our treasures in heaven. Even better, my project partner got to work on the document too, even in real time. Except, that never happened. 100 percent of the writing was done by me. God I hope she doesn’t read this article.

In an ideal case scenario, my final year project writing should have gone this way: first of all, damn the universe for pairing me with just 1 partner. I wish I had 3 or 4 group members to delegate the writing tasks to. I wish these guys worked on this document in real time and at their best convenience from their individual devices. I wish they sent the material periodically to the teaching assistant or the supervisor via email for reviews and comments. Reviews and comments they could read and address in real time. The third-person pronoun is being used here because we’re talking about ideal case scenarios here, and ideally I’m that guy, if you get what I mean.

Unfortunately none of that happened, but why? We are in 2018, yet we’re still wasting time, money, paper and chasing our supervisors around. Students are still losing their work. Also, why do we have many confusing fragments of one project scattered across three people’s devices? Why can’t we write on our laptops and continue on our smartphones on our way to class? Why?

In KNUST, almost everyone does an ICT-related course for a semester at least. I’d say while teaching students “Ctrl + B = Bolden text”, introduce them to Microsoft Office online, Google Docs, Slides, and all the other online alternatives as well. Teaching assistants should be trained in making tracked changes and commenting in documents. Let’s not bring the lecturers into this for now. At least the involvement of the teaching assistant helps reduce waste of time and paper appreciably.

We really should be moving with current trends, especially in a University of Science and Technology. While learning the technicalities of a course, let us harness available modern technology to help us practice our knowledge capturing, learning and sharing efficiently. These tools are free and waiting to be leveraged to make life easier and sexier. It may take years to realize this dream, but the conversation is worth having now. Time flies in a but can be caught in a web app.

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