Introducing an Organization to the Web: In Which Google Docs Is the Star

Sunday Salon Begins!

Sunday Salon had its official beginning on the second Sunday of January. Just under 20 people came into the Zoom room to see what Google Docs had to offer them, and our small (but mighty) communications committee joined in to add perspectives and a helping hand.

Sunday Salon logo: circle populated with key terms: give it a go, connect, learn, create, techOur plan was to start with a pep talk: You can’t break the internet! Just give it a go– that’s how you learn! Then, on to  the ancient Common Craft video about Google Docs (which was still in beta when the video was made, that’s how old the video was.) But the concepts of collaborating on a web-document haven’t changed, and I wanted to be sure people had a broad context in which to park their GDoc experiences.

Then Show & Tell: committee members would demonstrate how Google Docs works, describing how we have used it. Then participants would go to a document to experiment, followed by some debriefing, and then on to a page where people would respond to a prompt, writing more and reading each other’s thoughts, more debriefing, then a discussion of the next session.

Computers Can Ruin Your Whole Day: Have a Plan B

As is always the case, the session evolved differently than planned.  We spent the first 15-20 minutes on super-basics: helping people figure out how to navigate between a Zoom room and a webpage. Defining “browser.” Explaining where and how to double-click in order to get to the experimental Google doc. Explaining how to raise audio levels of mic and earphone. As I juggled the cacophony of questions and suggestions that usually arises in a group when someone encounters any kind of tech-related difficulty, a couple of people left.

Note to self: Good job on not panicking! Good job on offering to set up help sessions before the next session!

I tried to have a patient participant take real beginners with the most basic users questions into a breakout room for a private session, but the well-meaning chorus of suggestions drowned me out. Plus, the person I’d asked to help was horrified, saying she certainly didn’t think she was qualified to instruct anyone (despite the fact that she calmly and gently helps people work with their devices each Sunday before the worship session starts.) On top of that, experienced people kept inserting more advanced explanations into the discussion.

Notes to self:

  • Set up basic help mechanisms beforehand and explain how they will happen at the start of the session.
  • Ask an experienced person to take the lead on this for the next session– it will help participants stay focused on the leader and help decrease your sense of frazzled-ness.

Participant Response Will Vary: Google the Amusement Park; Google the Whipping Boy

There was no show and tell. The minute people arrived at the experiment document, they were like little kids. Highlighting text! Changing the colors! Fonts! Type sizes that shrank and grew! All accompanied by exclamations and laughter. “I love this!” wrote one woman. Others, not so much.

Screen shot of experimental GDoc, showing different fonts, colors, highlighting, etc. "We are typing in live time!" is in red.

Screen shot of GDoc experimentation

Two found the cursors bouncing all over the page distracting. Text that appeared in the middle of sentence distressed others, despite the fact that we’d said no deleting, editing, or changing another person’s text.  But the inserted text wasn’t intentional, just a sign that planting one’s cursor in a dedicated space was a challenge.

And, poor Google Docs. It became the whipping boy for a cache of user complaints, about things not always associated with the app, as well as representing users’ lack of knowledge. One man described how he once tried

to print something he said was in Google Docs only to have it not fit on the printed page. Strike one for Google Docs. (Others had no issues printing a similar document.)

Strike two: A woman described how bad Google Docs was when she and a friend tried sending a Word document back and forth and then opening it in Google Docs. One of my committee members wondered why they were sending it back and forth and not just working on the same document simultaneously. The woman rolled her eyes and dismissed the question. (Today, I sent her a link about working with Word documents in Google Docs.)

Escorting an Organization to the Threshold: What You Need to Know

I wanted to go slowly– my committee had been appalled to hear what I originally wanted to do– but, even so, one person’s slow is another person’s what-are-you-talking-about? Here are some things we learned.

  1. It doesn’t matter where you begin. Just start.
  2. Choose a specific tool and create specific tasks people can experiment with.
  3. Choose a tool that will benefit broader organizational needs. Our long-range goals include 1) moving church infrastructure and operations into the cloud; and 2) helping committees that run the church operate more effectively, collaboratively, and creatively. Google Docs was the priority.
  4. Don’t try to cover everything. The minute people dive in, there will be a million questions– about the tool, yes, but also about broader topics. Nip these in the bud: “Great question. We’re going to look at that next week.”
  5. Keep track of questions about computer basics and find a way to address those. I did that by creating a Google Site that links to an excellent educational site. This fulfilled multiple purposes.  It introduced a new Google tool. The site also has a Google form embedded, which lays the groundwork for introducing that tool down the road. And, it created a pathway for independent learning, which will, I hope, take the heat off me and begin to shift participant expectations about learning.
  6. Be prepared to be a private cheerleader and facilitator-teacher after the public session ends. For many people, this is an introduction not just to a tool, but to a new, scary world. Even one day later, I received email from an elderly man who talked about how important the implications of the web-based tools are, for collaborating on documents, but even more important, for the ways we conceive of worship  post-Covid.

I’ll write next about the big picture, for this organization moving forward, as well as how these relate to schooling.


Image by akiragiulia from Pixabay

4 responses to “Introducing an Organization to the Web: In Which Google Docs Is the Star”

  1. Connie Knapp says:

    Thank you for your willingness to share this experience. I have just volunteered to run a workshop on Google docs for our church. It may not happen, in part because we are moving toward using Sharepoint for document storage.

    I loved your list of “what you need to know.” No matter how many times I’ve demoed apps, I often forget that I need a Plan B. I used to remember that when I needed the systems most, that’s exactly when they would go down. 😉

    You are doing great things, my friend. Thanks for letting us share the journey.

    • Karen says:

      Happy to share– who are you doing it for?

      • Connie Knapp says:

        We’re not sure–we may offer it to the congregation. We were using Google Groups but we moved to a software package for churches, OnRealm. We’re not using Google for much anymore, so this idea may just die a natural death.

        • Karen says:

          It will be interesting to hear if OnRealm is something your general population can learn and use.

          I think GGroups was confusing to teach *and* learn.

          Our general level of user expertise is very low, so we are going with the simplest thing we can think of….

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