10 ways to take your Google Apps activities to the next level

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, October 2, 2014

10 ways to take your Google Apps activities to the next level

10 ways to take your Google Apps activities to the next level
10 ways to take your Google Apps activities to the next level

Google Apps for Education is powerful and game-changing, but there are some features hiding in the dark that can unlock new possibilities. (Deviantart / Revolution669)

As computers became more widespread in schools and Microsoft Office were the staple programs, it felt like enough to assign a student to create a Word document.

Create a PowerPoint. Create an Excel spreadsheet. End of story.

Although that still exists today (I slip back into that mindset if I’m not careful), there’s so much more we can do with our suite of productivity apps — especially since Google Apps for Education took off.

These apps are powerful, and we limit ourselves and our students when we assign them to “just create a file.” There’s a huge world of connections and creation that Google Apps empowers. We just have to tap into it.

I’ve been studying and taking the tests to become a Google Certified Educator. It’s a designation that Google offers educators that want to prove that their knowledge of Google’s products is deeper than the basics. There are two levels — level 1 for “standard technology implementation skills” and level 2 for “advanced technology integration skills.”

If you don’t want to pay for the tests but want the learning, you can take the online courses to become a Google Educator for free. There’s a ton of great info and features about Google Apps that I didn’t fully realize.

As I’ve worked my way through some of the courses, features and tricks in Google Drive have sparked ideas in my mind of how we can do more with Google Apps. Here are some of those ideas:

 1. Share them far and wide.

This idea is such a basic one, but it’s at the core of what makes Google Apps so powerful. By itself, the ability to give people viewing, commenting and editing rights in your files changes what we can do in education. Generate a link to your document and share it with other classes, experts in your field and colleagues and students all over the world. The shared document idea is what people talk about over and over with Google Apps, but it still deserves to be No. 1 on this list.

2. Gather student work in one place.

Google Apps work beautifully with free website creators like Weebly and Google Sites. When students turn traditional work in to a teacher, it’s done for an audience of one — the teacher. If it’s shared with the class, it might be an audience of 20 or more. Taking student work done on Google Apps and embedding it in a free website displays it for the world. (Not sure how to embed? It’s easy. Check out how here.) It opens that work to an audience of thousands — potentially millions.

3. Gather and display data in one place.

Have questions? Want to gather information from your class or others? Create a Google Form, a powerful tool that lets users create custom surveys. Want to display the results of those questions? Embed a spreadsheet with those results into a website like the one mentioned in No. 2 above. (You can embed the Google Form on that page, too, so you have everything in one place.)

4. Create graphics for your files with Drawings.

Of the basic apps of Google Apps, I think Drawings sometimes gets left out, but there’s so much you can do with it. Need charts, illustrations or infographics to go with something you make in Google Apps? Make them in Drawings and then add them to the doc, presentation or spreadsheet you’re creating. Drawings makes creating basic visuals really easy (and has the capability to make much more intricate visuals as well). Once your Drawing is created, click “File > Download as > JPEG” and you’ll have a picture file of what you created to add to your work.

5. Crowdsource a product.

Want to create something quickly but don’t want any one person to do all the work? That’s fine — piece it out to a crowd (like a class of students!). Create a document, presentation or spreadsheet. Then, using the blue “Share” button in the top right, choose the “Anyone with the link can edit” option. Share that file with your crowd and give each person some space to work (i.e. a slide for each person on a presentation). Each person can do a small part of whatever task you want them to do (i.e. gather pictures, brainstorm ideas, etc.).

6. Annotate photos and other images for a product.

In No. 4, we added Drawings to a document, spreadsheet or presentation. Now, we’ll use the same skill set to accomplish a new goal. Students often need to identify different parts of an image (i.e. a picture of the anatomy of a frog, a painting by an artist they’re studying). Pulling that image into a Google Drawing enables them to annotate — add new elements to — that image. They can add arrows and text. They can circle and point out important features with shapes. Then those images can be shared with others (teacher included) or added to a file (see No. 4).

7. Add others to comments.

Adding comments to a file in Google Apps is powerful by itself. It opens that file up to converation and the exchange of ideas without having to leave the file. A commenting feature I recently learned is to add other users to a conversation that might not notice it otherwise. In a comment in a document, spreadsheet, presentation or drawing, add someone’s Google e-mail in the comment with a “+” in front (+ditchthattextbook@gmail.com). That emails that person a notification that he/she has been mentioned in a comment in your document, basically inviting him/her to the conversation. Make sure that person has rights to view, comment or edit beforehand, though, using the blue “Share” button.

8. E-mail everyone collaborating in a document.

Communicate with everyone working in your Google Document without leaving the document. Click “File > Email collaborators …” and send an e-mail to everyone connected to your document.

9. Organize documents with a table of contents.

If you have a big document, keeping everything organized and easy to find can be a chore. To avoid that, use headings and insert a table of contents into the document. If you add little subtitles to your work, you can highlight them and click the dropdown menu that says “Normal text” (next to the font). Choose a heading. The heading you choose creates a hierarchy … “Heading 1” is the main topic, then “Heading 2” can be a subtopic of the main topic, etc. When you’re done adding headings, just click “Insert > Table of Contents” in the place where you want it.

10. Add Creative Commons images.

Photos and other visuals can make almost any file in Google Apps more appealing to readers. Add Creative Commons images — images where the author has permitted others to reuse them. Find images — and other Creative Commons files — with that distinction using the Creative Commons search. This great infographic by Foter gives some key information about Creative Commons work and how to attribute it properly.

What else do you (or your students) do with Google Apps that takes learning to the next level? How can you see any of these ideas being utilized in the classroom? Share your ideas in a comment below!


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  • Andrew says:

    Another excellent post! You have the ability to get to the essence of something quickly Matt. I want to use a photo from a book so my students can annotate their thoughts for our unit on illustrated texts at year 7.

  • Serafina says:

    I love the ‘global-village’ thinking behind Number 1, but can you suggest how I could find teachers/classes of a similar age groups in other countries around the world to communicate with? I am in the UK and teach ages 11-14 Google Apps for Education (we are already doing 7 out of the 10 suggestions above – I should take the Google Educator tests!). Thanks.

    • Matt Miller says:

      Sure, Serafina — Check out this page (DitchThatTextbook.com/flatclass) … it has my resources for a session I lead on connecting classrooms to the world. There are several links and ideas for finding other teachers and classes there. Check it out, and if you have any questions or need anything else, just email me!

  • Lisa says:

    Thank you for the information about becoming a Google Educator. I am excited to begin my classes!

  • Bill Shidler says:

    Loved the crowdssource a product #5……just shared that one idea with our 5th grade classrooms to address some immediate take-aways from lessons. Thanks again!

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