Exploring ‘Explore’: How Google works for you and your students

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Thursday, April 13, 2017

Exploring ‘Explore’: How Google works for you and your students

exploring explore

The Explore tool can reduce the time you and your students lose doing mundane tasks. That means more time for learning!

I can only imagine the hours of time spent tinkering on Google Apps.

Slide design. Looking up citation information. Fumbling with creating charts from data.

If we can eliminate some of the mindless procedural stuff, we can spend quality time on learning.

Google’s got your back. Within the last year, they created the Explore tool. You might have seen it. It looks like a star and sits in the bottom right corner of your Google files.

Clippit (often called "Clippy," the Microsoft Office Assistant. (Used with permission from Microsoft.)

Clippy, the Microsoft Office Assistant. (Used with permission from Microsoft.)

(You know, kind of like Clippy, the Microsoft Office assistant from years ago … remember him???)

You can access the Explore tool in the “Tools” menu of the top menu bar in Docs, Slides and Sheets. Find Docs, Slides and Sheets in Google Drive (drive.google.com).

Explore also works Docs and Sheets on mobile devices.

But the easiest way to access it is to use the star icon at the bottom of your file.

explore tool button

Using Explore in Google Docs

Explore reads the content you have on the page and suggests things to add to it. But for it to help, it needs some content on the page … or it looks like this:
explore auto suggest

I grabbed the text and image from a blog post and stuck it in a Google Doc. Immediately, it scanned my document and suggested a few things:

  • Topics I could search more in-depth based on what I had written
  • Additional images I could add
  • Research that might speak to what I was writing about

explore overview

Some features of the image suggestion in Explore:

  • With images and research, you can click on the item to see it in detail.
  • When you hover over it, it will display a “+” icon, which you can use to add it to your document.
  • Click on the “More” button to see more images. From there, you can click and drag images onto your document.
  • Suggested images are labeled for commercial reuse with modification. That means that Google has identified these as images licensed to be used with minimal restrictions.

When adding research to your document with the “+” icon, Google will also add a footnote citation to your document.

explore add citation

The Explore tool will also help you search the web, images  and your own Google Drive from inside your doc.

explore search web images drive

I find the Google Drive search tool especially helpful. I’m the worst at creating or adding files to my Google Drive and then forgetting what’s in there! With the search tool, you can find all the relevant files you didn’t remember you had.

Using Explore in Google Slides

I mentioned time-consuming slide tinkering as a problem earlier. Explore can help solve that.

Add text, images or whatever you need to a slide. Then click the Explore tool. It will suggest different ways to design your slide so you don’t have to.

explore slides layout

In the Google Docs blog, they report that people save over 30 percent of the time they would have spent of formatting when they use Explore.

I added a photo from a hike at a state park near my house. Here’s what Explore came up with as possible slide designs with it:

explore slides w pic

The Explore tool pairs wonderfully with SlideShot and DriveSlides, two Google Chrome extensions. Here’s how:

  • SlideShot will take screenshots of a student’s device every minute and place those images on a slide presentation when done. If students want to create something with those images, the Explore tool will help design the slides.
  • DriveSlides will add all the images in a folder in Google Drive to a slide presentation — one image per slide. The Explore tool can perk up the design of those boring slides to make them more interesting. This can spice up a slide presentation of images from a field trip, from your classroom or of your content.

Hat-tip to Alice Keeler on this idea. Here’s her blog post on it.

Using Explore in Google Sheets

I’m not as much of a data geek as I should be. I get lost in the numbers on a spreadsheet very easily.

The Explore tool is here to help. When you use it with a sheet filled with data, it will analyze the data and provide:

  • charts for important parts of the data
  • answers to questions you might ask about the data
  • logical formatting of the data

explore sheets data analysis

[reminder]How have you used the Explore tool in the classroom — as a teacher or with students? How could you use it?[/reminder]

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