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Collaborative learning increases student achievement of learning outcomes in a wide range of disciplines, including the natural sciences, and is a hallmark of authentic assessment. To help students collaborate more effectively, I have used Google Docs, a free, online word-processing program accessible using almost any internet-connected device. Assessments that include real-world application problems are composed in Google Docs and shared with students via links. Google Docs has proven to be more efficient than pencil-and-paper assessment, encourages greater collaboration within student groups than is possible with tools embedded in a learning management system, and provides opportunities to give students just-in-time instruction and examine student metacognition, all of which are foundational for authentic assessment. Post-assessment grading is rapid, and corrected documents with instructor feedback can be easily shared with students. Students have adapted readily to the platform and have learned on their own how to use the software beyond my original conception. I describe how I have used Google Docs successfully in a molecular biology course, offer considerations for grading and distributing corrections, and report on students’ perceptions of the assessments themselves.
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