7 big Google changes and how they help educators

These Google Changes -- including Classroom, Keep, Calendar and more -- can boost productivity and create new possibilities in the classroom. (Image via Steve Jurvetson / Flickr / CC-BY-2.0)

These Google Changes — including Classroom, Keep, Calendar and more — can boost productivity and create new possibilities in the classroom. (Image via Steve Jurvetson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Tens of millions of students and teachers worldwide use Google tools in the classroom.

Students are creating and collaborating, researching and sharing. Teachers are managing more efficient digital classes and offering more engaging, thought-provoking learning opportunities.

When new features or changes happen with Google products that affect education, it’s a big deal.

In recent days and weeks and months (as of publication of this post), Google has been improving its offerings for teachers and students.

Here are seven changes you should know about, ranging from small features with big impact to new, cutting-edge technology to watch as it develops:

1. Schedule to Google Classroom — This one must have been a very popular request among teachers. Before, you could post assignments, announcements and questions to Google Classroom. You could create new posts as drafts and save them. But you couldn’t schedule them to automatically post later.

Now that’s all possible. When creating a new assignment, announcement or question, instead of clicking “Assign,” use the drop-down button next to the “Assign” button and choose “Schedule”. (More: Google for Education’s news release)

Classroom application: Teachers can set up posts days or weeks in advance, saving the trouble of scrambling to post something the morning before class starts.

2. Slides Q&A — Slide presentations can be a very one-way method of communication when the speaker speaks and there’s no interaction with the audience. Google Slides has a new feature that makes slide presentations more interactive.

With Slide Q&A, people in the audience can submit questions to a presenter to be answered during the presentation. The presenter can see the questions on his/her put an audience-submitted question on the screen and answer it on the spot.

There’s also a neat feature that makes your cursor on the screen look like a laser pointer.

See all of it in a quick tutorial video here, or see the Google support page with step-by-step instructions. (More: Google Docs Blog news release)

Classroom application:

  • Students can ask questions to teachers in a new format (although, in a smaller class, it’s still probably easiest to raise hands to ask questions).
  • This would be handy if you want students to ask relevant questions during each other’s presentations.
  • Educators providing professional development can gather questions with this tool.
  • When connecting multiple classes via Google Hangouts/Skype/etc. or with a virtual guest or virtual field trip, this tool can help classes to be better connected.

3. Set sharing permissions to expire — Sometimes, students only need access to your document, slides, spreadsheet or other file for a certain amount of time. You can now set your sharing permissions to expire at a specified time.

Click the blue “Share” button in the file to share. Add the person whose permission needs to expire at a certain point. Choose “Can View” instead of “Can Edit” or “Can Comment”. A stopwatch icon will appear, which you can click to specify when you want that person’s permission to view the file to expire.

A couple of limitations:

  • You can only use “Can View” permissions with this feature (not edit or comment permissions).
  • You must have an education or business Google account for access to this feature. (Standard Google accounts don’t have it.)
  • You must add every individual whose permission you want to expire. (If you have a large group of students, educators or others, that could be cumbersome.)
    • A possible workaround: Remove permissions the old-fashioned way. Share the file with an “everyone with the link can …” link. When you want to remove permissions, change the sharing settings in that file back to “Private.” If you want to share the file with a different group, make a copy (File > Make a copy …) and share it. (That way, you’ll be sharing a brand new link and the people that had access previously won’t have access to it.)

Check out the Google support page with detailed instructions or the Google Apps updates page news release.

Classroom application: This will automatically remove access to study guides, assignments, answer explanations to tests or other classroom materials you share with students. Also, expiring permissions is a way to create a hard deadline on an activity … the document “disappears” when the deadline hits. (Although students are able to make a copy to their Google Drives if the want.)

4. Google Keep Chrome extension — Google Keep is a go-to Google tool for me. It’s like virtual sticky notes that follow you via your Google account to whatever device you use (computer, tablet, smartphone, etc.). Check out the basics and some ways to use it in class in this post.

If you use the Google Chrome web browser, you can now install an extension (like a little app in your Chrome browser) that will save a webpage as a note to your Google Keep with one click. You can add comments to your note so you’ll know why you saved it in the first place (very important for me!).

(More: Google Keep Chrome extension news release on the Google Docs blog)

Classroom application:

  • Save webpages you’ll want to remember later for classroom instruction or professional development with this Google Keep extension.
  • Students can gather resources for research, presentations, projects and more with the Google Keep extension.

5. Find a time with Google Calendar for Android — If you keep track of appointments with the Google Calendar app and you use an Android device (tablet/smartphone), finding a common meeting time with others just got much easier.

After adding the people involved in your calendar appointment, click the “Find a time” button. The app analyzes everyone’s calendars and finds openings that are common to all of their calendars. Choose the one that fits best and send the calendar invite.

(More: Gmail blog news release)

Classroom application: If you schedule appointments with colleagues, administrators, parents or even students that also use Google Calendar, this can save you lots of time asking questions back and forth about the best time to meet.

6. Synergise, a Google Apps virtual coach — It’s helpful to have someone help you learn about tools you don’t know yet and new features of ones you do know. Synergise does that with Google Apps, providing on-screen, in-the-moment, bite-sized training while you use the product. Previously a paid service, now Google has acquired Synergise and will be making its “Google Apps virtual coach” totally free.

Google says that Synergise will be available to all Google users by the end of the 2016 year.

(More: Google for Work blog news release)

Classroom application: Teachers who want to learn the basics of Google tools — or pick up new or advanced skills — will be able to use this on-screen virtual coach. Synergise will help students get up to speed even faster, and their training on Google Apps won’t depend solely on what the teacher can tell them.

7. 3D, virtual reality painting with Tilt Brush — This one likely won’t be readily accessible to classrooms right away, but it’s definitely worth watching.

Google has announced a new 3D painting tool called Tilt Brush. It works with the HTC Vive, a virtual reality set (VR goggles, controllers, etc.) that provides a full-room immersive experience. Tilt Brush lets you paint in 3D space in virtual reality. There’s a pretty stunning YouTube video of it (see below).

The HTC Vive retails at $799, so buying sets for your class — or even one! — is probably out of reach. The reason I include it here is because this technology has the chance to become accessible quickly. The VR goggles look and act a lot like Google Cardboard, Google’s new product that uses a cell phone to provide a VR experience. The Vive’s controllers work much like what you can do in games like Lightsaber Escape with your cell phone.

This VR/augmented reality technology is becoming more and more accessible. This is the world our students will work in one day. It’s worth watching.

Classroom application: With an HTC Vive VR set, students could paint in 3D in art classes or other educational settings. Its immersive setting can let students explore places — and their imaginations — in 3D. (If you can purchase one. If not, we’ll watch for this capability in more affordable options later.)

Question: How could you see yourself or your students using these new Google options? What other newer Google features have you used successfully in education? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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