Relative Advantage of the Basic Suite for Learning

Blogging about tools I have used for almost two decades was a true challenge. It was not until I had done some research and completed this week’s activities that I could truly reflect upon the power of the basic suite tools. Here are a few of those thoughts. 

Most of us familiar with technology have used the basic suite of software tools (word processor, spreadsheets, and presentations) so frequently that they have blended into the day to day routine of work and personal life. As an instructional coach and adjunct instructor, I find that I use Microsoft Word and PowerPoint (or Google Docs) on a daily basis to created assignments and instructional resources. Helping students learn to use these tools in a professional manner is a great strategy to teach them organization and productivity skills.

1. Everyone can create professional products

Regardless of ability level, with a small bit of knowledge of basic software tools, anyone can create professional-quality documents and resources (Roblyer, 2016). With such a strong push towards 21st-century skills arms authentic assignments, basic suite tools provide the foundation for such work to occur in a classroom. Students can quickly pull together flash cards in Microsoft PowerPoint or collaboratively create a document based question outline in a Google Doc with a group of students. The possibilities are endless.

2.  As an improvement to existing in-class activities

Discussion is a critical component of the social studies classroom. History content is, by its nature, filled with controversial topics best explored through class discussion and debate. As Roberts (2013) notes, face to face discussion on challenging issue proves problematic for even the most adept teacher.  Students may prefer to have time to reflect on comments made by peers or on the material itself. Others may not feel comfortable expressing their opinion in a large class of students.

The high level of collaboration potential on basic tools, such as Google Docs, provides solutions for teachers struggling to implement discussions in the social studies classroom. Roberts (2013) documents a case study where a face to face strategy called Chalk Talk was transformed into a digital one using Google Docs. Chalk Talk traditionally occurs on a whiteboard or chalkboard. The teacher writes a challenge question or controversial topic in the center of the board. Students take turns silently responding to the prompt. This strategy is effective but poses a few challenges in terms of logistics. Depending upon the amount of writing tools and board space, a limited amount of students can participate at one given time. Shy students are notoriously difficult to motivate in this type of activity. By using a Google Document as the Chalk Talk medium, students can simultaneously post and reflect upon comments at a pace that suits each individual. While new logistical issues arise with this solution (such as students deleting other’s comments), document organization or division into smaller groups may help improve the experience.


Roberts, S. L. (2013). The “chalk talk” 2.0: Using Google Docs to improve silent discussion in social studies. The Social Studies, 104(3), 130-136. doi: 10.1080/00377996.2012.703972

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.


2 thoughts on “Relative Advantage of the Basic Suite for Learning”

  1. Hi, Megan! Great blog post! I especially enjoyed the information pertaining to Chalk Talk to stir up class discussions. I work for a virtual school and conduct online “live” lessons with my students one time a week. In a virtual environment, you wouldn’t think that getting students to participate in discussions would be challenging since students cannot see one another in our online classroom, but it is! I love your suggestion to use a shared Google doc to engage students in discussions who might otherwise be too shy to participate. I can see using this tool within a “flipped classroom” pre-session activity and reviewing the results of the discussion during our live session. Thanks for the great idea!
    ~Leanne 🙂


  2. Megan,
    Thanks for the post. I had not heard of Chalk Talks before before but they sound similar to something I have seen our English and History teachers do in their classes. I know those departments really like using Google Docs because it is pretty easy to use and has no cost. The biggest drawbacks they have mentioned with it are that the formatting isn’t always easy to adjust for MLA and the students have to have an account. We haven’t adopted a school-wide Google Apps for Ed. However, we do have district-wide Office 365 so that makes sharing easier but we’ve had some technical issues in our first year of implementation so some of our teachers are hesitant to use it. We also do not have district-issued email accounts for students. That would make a lot of things easier. I’ll have to mention the used of Google Docs for a Chalk Talk to my colleagues. Thanks for sharing!


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