Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Book Exchange with Google Docs

One of the courses I teach has four required books, the same four books every semester. This semester, I am trying a new experiment: making a simple "Book Exchange" using Google Documents.

Here is how I did this:

1. Create page. Using Google Documents, I created a page where students can add their names to the list as sellers. Here's what it looks like:
2. Invite current students. Then, I clicked on "Share: With Others" and invited my CURRENT students to be "collaborators" in the document. To invite them, all I had to do was paste in the list of email addresses; you can paste in a list of addresses separated with commas. (I got the list of email addresses from Desire2Learn, our course management system.) This generates an email invitation that goes out to the email addresses that I listed, containing a clickable link that gives each person on the list access to the GoogleDoc page with the ability to edit it.

IMPORTANT: The students need a GoogleDocs account - either a Gmail account, or a GoogleDocs account linked to another email address - to edit the document. I checked "invitations may be used by anyone" so that it doesn't matter what email address the students use to log on to their GoogleDocs account. When they click on the link in the email, if they are not logged in to GoogleDocs already, they receive a prompt that tells them to log in, and allows them to create an account if they do not have one already. They can use any email address precisely because I checked the "invitations may be used by anyone" option.

3. Announce to future students. Then, I clicked on "Share: Publish as web page" so that I could publish this as a webpage that anyone can view online (you only need the invitation in order to edit the page, not to view it). This gave me a webpage address that I could send to the students in my FUTURE semester class, so that if they want to buy their books from someone who is currently enrolled, they can make arrangements to do that. So, using our course management system, I sent out an email to the FUTURE semester's students, giving them the address of the page where they could look to see which students are selling which books, prices, etc. (Anybody can view the document who knows the address; no GoogleDocs account is required to view a GoogleDocs page as a webpage after it's published - but I am publicizing that address only with students enrolled in the future semester.)

That's all! It took me just ten minutes to get it set up - and now the students can manage it for themselves (although just out of curiosity I'll be checking in to see how it is working - one student signed up to sell her books instantly). Since I promote the use of GoogleDocuments in my classes already, many of the students will be familiar with editing a GoogleDocument already from doing that as part of their class work.

Fingers crossed: I would really like a way for students who want to sell their books to be able to do so directly, without having to go through a middle-man, like the OU Bookstore, which is obviously going to take a chunk of the profit. There's also an online marketplace through our campus newspaper, but it's clunky to use at best - I've tried promoting its use in the past with little success. I'm hoping this GoogleDocs will be an easy solution so that students can hand on books from one semester to the next without having to go to a lot of trouble!

The students need to have their books in hand by around January 20, when classes start. After that date, I'll "unpublish" the page so that it doesn't remain online... but I'll have it read to go again at the end of the next semester (assuming this little experiment works). Fingers crossed!

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