Googling Libraries

The future of libraries is in research

A collection of ways Google G Suite for Education can be used in the library, including the creation of digital spaces, supporting research, organising thinking and making connections beyond the classroom.


One of the areas that the team that I work in supports is GSuite. This year we have looked to provide for some different stakeholders within school, one of which are librarians. I have written before about the future of libraries, touching on ideas of a hybrid learning space always open. Here then are some further thoughts on the ways that GSuite can support these changes:

Spaces

A significant change in recent times has been the development of virtual spaces. David White describes this intersection between the physical and digital as a coalescent space. Google provides a number of options including: Sites, Plus, Classroom and Blogger. Each application has its own set of features and affordances.

(New) Google Sites is a static website builder that allows a lot of drop and drag. It offers a number of possibilities. It is also now found within Google Drive and allows users to embed a wide range of content. One of the limitations is the ability to converse and the use of mobile platforms to create and update.

Another option is Google Plus. Like Facebook and Facebook Pages, Plus provides the means to create communities where people can meet and share. These can be both public and private. Additionally, Plus allows users to organise resources in collections.

A development over recent years has been Google Classroom. This space allows many of the features of Plus communities, but in a closed environment. A recent addition to classroom has been the ability to engage across domains.

The original Google space is Blogger. One of the original blogging platforms, Blogger allows for an open and dynamic presentation of content. This could be a shared space for different writers, a place to collect links or a space to document news and updates.

There are so many options for spaces. However, rather than choosing one or the other, sometimes the best option is combining different solutions, whether it be a Site and a G+ community or a blog and a Classroom space.

Further Reading

Research.

In an age of abundance, customised content and fake news, one of the more important roles for a library is to develop digital citizenship. For David White, this is about being an “expert at navigating content, not owning it.” A common use of libraries then is to support research and investigation. Google provides a number of tools to support this, such as:

Google has also created a range of material to support the development of research skills. This includes a Power Searching Course, Search Literacy Lesson Plans and the game-based A Google A Day

Another collection of strategies comes via Mike Caulfield and his work around fact checking. In his book Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers, Caulfield outlines four key strategies:

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.

  • Read laterally: Read laterally.[1] Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.

  • Circle back: If you get lost, or hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

This book also explains how to use Google Books to track down quotes and use reverse image search to find the origin of an image.

To support these strategies, Caulfield also started a new site, Four Moves. This has been designed to provide prompts and practice to support students with the act of fact checking.

It is often stated that the best firewall is the human sitting using the computer. That is part of the reason Google developed Be Internet Awesome, a program designed to support students to be better online citizens. It is organised around five fundamentals – being smart, alert, strong, kind and brave – and mixes together a curriculum with a series of game-based activities.

It is important to note that Digital citizenship can mean many things to many people. Sometimes the best thing to do is start by defining what it means within your own content.

Further Reading

  • Google Search Presentation – Anthony Speranza provides some tricks to making the most of searching with Google.
  • Be Internet Awesome – A range of resources developed by Google to help kids be safe, confident explorers of the online world.
  • Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers – Mike Caulfield provides a range of strategies, tactics and tools, which, properly used, can get students closer to the truth of a statement or image.
  • Four Moves – A collection of activities to support Caulfield’s work with fact checking and digital citizenship.

Beyond Book Reports

The traditional perception of the library are rows and rows of books and with this the age old practice of standard book reports. It would be therefore easy to use technology to just reproduce this. The problem though is it fails to recognise new possibilities associted with the various features and affordances.

One possibility is to explore place using the range of geo tools. Whether it be plotting a narrative with Google Tour Builder, going on a Lit Trip with Google Earth, collating books from around the world with My Maps, exploring places with Google Cardboard or testing your knowledge with Smarty Pins.

Another potential is to use Google Forms to gather student reviews and then publish these with Awesome Tables. These reviews could even be audio or video recordings, collected using the file upload question format. Videos could even be played within a Google Slide, therefore avoiding the need to upload to YouTube.

HyperDocs provide another way of rethinking how students respond to books. They are documents which incorporate different interactive activities, usually involving a range of choice. They help provide the structure for self-determined learners. A creative activity involving hyperlinks is the making of a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. Another format to support thinking and research is the Iron Chef Lesson Plan, which involves working collaboratively to develop ideas and understanding.

Further Reading

Thinking

Libraries are often the space within a school which provides the possibility to go beyond the subject silos. In regards to curriculum, this provides the opportunity to explore other areas, such as the critical and creative thinking curriculum.

Google provides a number of ways to make our critical thinking visible. This can come in many formats, whether it be conducting brainstorms, organising ideas using graphic templates or representing understanding using infographics. For creative responses, you can make poems or digital comics. Two tools useful for working collaboratively with text and visuals are Drawings and Slides.

Gone are the days of libraries being silent spaces dedicated to independent reading and reaearch. Now they are spaces design to spark conversation and creativity. A part of this is the inclusion of makerspaces, but another change is the addition of games and a focus on collaborative problem solving. One possibility in this area is BreakoutEDU. Based on the escape room, BreakoutEDU provides a way of engaging with the wider space, but they can also be a way of developing critical thinking. An extension of this are digital BreakoutEDU experiences.

Further Reading

Connected Classroom

The move of libraries into the digital realm not only opens learning up into different spaces, but it also provides different connected opportunities outside of the school.

Hangouts Meet allows for synchronous video connections beyond the four walls of the classroom. This could include sending out an impromptu invite or scheduling an event beforehand. Whereas previously recordings had to be done using YouTube Live, users can now record with Meet and save to Drive. Virtual connections can be used to connect different classrooms, conduct virtual debates or provide an alternative point of access to classroom material.

Google provides a number ways for sharing video for asyncronius connections. This could be as simple as a presentation with Slides or content added to a blog. Another possibility often overlook is the ability to create a shared channel in YouTube. This allows multiple people to manage things and passing on content if they leave. In addition to uploading video, a channel can be used to share curated playlists of appropriate content. An important topic with the increasing influence of algorithms on what is shown on YouTube.

Further Reading


So there it is, a breakdown of some ways that Google can be incorporated into the library. One thing to be mindful of is not every application is covered by the standard collection notice. I have also excluded some that I am unsure about from educational sense, such as Google Books, as they do not seem to be available in Australia.

So what about you? Would you have structured things differently? Or maybe you have an activity that could be added? Or even a resource? As always, comments welcome or you could even write your own post and send me a webmention.


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Automating the Summary of Data

The power of query in sorting out data in Sheets

My first iteration using Query and Sheets to automate a solution for turning a collection of data into a regular newsletter.

This year I decided to create a monthly newsletter collecting together the updates and resources that I came upon during the previous month. As I have reflected elsewhere, I realised that there was an opportunity to automate some of this process. Although some spoke about Pinboard or generating a post via email, I was interested in sticking to GSuite. I therefore began with the aim of generating a solution within Sheets. So here is my first iteration of an automated solution for turning a collection of links into a summary.

Organising the Data

I remember being in a session with Jay Atwood a few years ago talk about the importance of considering the way you collect your data before anything else. As I looked at my databases, one for updates and the other for resources, I realised that the first thing that I needed to do was reorganise the way that I was storing information. This included restricting the options associated with type and application, as well as separating the link and title and then smashing them together using the HYPERLINK formula. Inspired by Ben Collins’ post on working with text, I also created a column summarising the information in each row into Markdown summary.


Reorganised Data w/ Formulas by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

From Lookups to Queries

Once I had my data organised, I then started explored sorting and shaping the data. I began with a VLOOKUP with a dynamic selector. This allowed me to filter it in different ways. However, I quickly realised that this was limited. I turned to QUERY.

I remember David Krevitt talking about QUERY, describing it as the, ” big kahuna of Sheets functions.” I think this initially put me off. This time I opened up a number of guides from Krevitt, Collins and Anand Varma and dived in. This lead me to rewrite my VLOOKUP as a QUERY.

Bit by bit I stretched the solution. I began with a dynamic selector to represent variables and explored the ability to define queries by date. I then created a prototype with a query for each application across the sheet.


1st Iteration by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

Once I had that working, I create a vertical set of queries. To allow for the variable of the unknown number of posts each month, I left 30 blank rows between each formula.

Filtering Results

To get rid of the spaces and the data headings, I used a FILTER formula and removed the spaces and column headings produced by the QUERY formulas. This left me with a choice, copy the MarkDown data and paste it without formatting, therefore removing the table/sheet that it was in, or using the add-on Sheets to Docs to copy the text to a Google Doc.


So that is the first step in my solution using Sheets to generate the text for a newsletter. My next challenge is transferring this to a Google Script. If you have any thoughts and advice about this, I would greatly appreciate it. Otherwise, as always feel free to leave a comment.


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Scripting an Automated Solution

Spreadsheets

A plan for an automated monthly newsletter produced from Google Sheets. The intention is to develop data in a way that it can be used in a number of ways.


I recently wrote a post reflecting on the Digital Technologies curriculum. One of things that I realised through the process is that I often wait to the end to discuss my projects. Although this can be useful in providing an overview of learning and achievements, it does not necessarily allow others a means to provide feedback early on. I usually ask questions online, but this often lacks context. So this post is an attempt to plan out a new project, with the hope that others might be able to provide advice and guidance.

This year I started a monthly newsletter associated with Google. With GSuite the chosen learning and teaching platform in my organisation, I thought it would be useful to summarise the various resources for others. I started with a Google Doc, organising the various links under headings associated with the featured application, as well as a section documenting the overall updates.

This has ebbed and evolved as the year has gone on, with a clear order of applications to correspond with a range of modules. However, the question that has arisen is whether there is a better way of recording the various links and updates so that they are easily searchable.

Currently, you can go back through the various posts and look for resources, but this is both cumbersome and tedious. It therefore had me think about storing the links in a Google Sheet and possibly generating the monthly summary/newsletter from that.

I know that I could probably do this with a social bookmarking platform or even a blog, but I feel that putting the information into a spreadsheet provides more operability. It would mean that the data would be in a format with which I could present it a number of ways. It also means the links could be recorded using something as simple as Google Forms.

I am therefore thinking of creating a script in Sheets that collates all the links for the month in a Google Doc. To be honest, Google Apps Script is all still new to me, but I am wondering about the possibility of creating a template with merge fields. I remember Autocrat doing something similar. I could then use this to post in WordPress.

I am left with a number of questions, such as how should I action the script? Would it need some sort of selector or could it be done automatically? How customisable are templates? Could I generate a markdown version for the purpose of posting?

Maybe you have an idea or a post that you would recommend checking out before beginning or just a tip of where to start. As always, comments welcome.


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A Month of Plus

2017-03-24_06-51-37

Often it feels as if the discussions around being a connected educator resort to being a part of this or that community or signing up to a particular platform. For example, many argue that all educators should be on Twitter. When I think about my connected activities, I exist in a number of spaces, each with a different level of commitment and engagement. David White and Alison Le Cornu capture this with their idea of digital resident and visitor.

What is interesting is that beyond the commitment and balance between personal and professional, each application often offers a different set of features and affordances. Take Twitter readwriterespond  for example, allows such things as:

  • Post a message of 140 characters
  • Connect with ideas using hashtags and.people using handles
  • Add additional material, such as images and links

Although these features are continually tweaked, from adding an algorithm to the feed to the new functionality in the form of moments. What is interesting is that overtime the way these features are used changes and morphs. From an educational point of view, there has been a move to more serious and professional consumption, with this there has been a rise in automated engagement, while some conversations have been somewhat silenced with the rise of so-called ‘attack dogs’. See David Hopkins’ post for an example of a critique. In addition, I have changed both personally and professionally. Personally, I feel that I have developed an extensive network with different connections in different spaces. Although this is a positive, it has changed the way I engage with my feed. I also use other means to find posts and information. Professionally, I have become more mindful of my presence, especially what impact it might have with the various schools and teachers who I work with. One of my mainstays has been sharing.

As I read in other places I use Twitter as my first place to share. This month I decided to mix things up and change to Google+. Doug Belshaw is always talking about workflows, bringing in some different, junking what may not work anymore. I was interested in what would happen to my workflow if I had to junk Twitter. I understand that their are copies, such as Mastadon social, but I was particularly interested in what would happen if I moved to a completely new platform altogether. the differences.

So here is a summary of my experiences of moving in part to another space:

Positives

  • Longer Explanations: With the limit of 140 characters lifted, I started writing longer elaborations on my thoughts and reflections. I also included a quote for most posts. I have been doing this for a while with Diigo and then my newsletter.
  • More Thought Out: I found myself questioning what I posted on Google Plus. For some reason I am happy to post more frivolous content to Twitter, where the focus on summarising and quotes made me think again.
  • Text Formatting: Although it is only *bold*, _italicise_ and -strikethrough-, this simple formatting offers some different possibilities, such as italicising quotes or bolding keywords.

Negative

  • Serendipitous Conversations: Although there were a few comments and conversations on Plus, it is not quite the same as with Twitter. It would seem to have a smaller serendipity surface. There was neither the breadth or depth that can come with Twitter.
  • Connections and Communities: One aspect that stood out within Google Plus was the lack of connections. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of people in my Circles. However, it feels like there are more people on Twitter than there are on Plus. In addition to this, it would seem that people spend their time on Plus within Communities. The problem with this is that there are so many different communities. This can make it hard to work out where to share exactly.
  • Multiple Identities: Another point of confusion that Plus adds to the mix is that people often have multiple Identities, each with their own purpose and intent. Therefore, it can be a challenge when tagging people in a post as it is not always clear which account to share with.

So that was my month of residence in Google Plus. It definitely left me thinking about some of the challenges in moving between different spaces. So what about you? What have been your experiences associated with Google Plus? What would you miss without Twitter? As always, comments and perspectives welcome.


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Tips, Tricks and Sheets

Three Things


“Three Things” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

I have been doing a bit of work with Google Sheets lately, here . To be honest, Sheets has been one of those applications which I have wanted to go further with for a while, but never really found the time or purpose. With the help of Ben Collins, Alice Keeler, Chris Betcher, Jay Atwood, Chris Harte and Eric Curts I have explored everything from formatting to formulas. Here then are some of my lessons learned through it all:

Smashing Cells Together

I have lost the amount of times that I have had to create a spreadsheet with a range of different data, but each somewhat related. For example, one column has a list of usernames, which then needs to be turned into an email address. Obviously the simple answer is to write two lists. However, the shortcut is to use ‘&’ to smash the two cells together. If you want two names combined then you use ‘&” “&’. To remove the formula from the cell, download as a CSV. This turns everything into text. Then you can either continue using the spreadsheet in another program or re-upload the new sheet.

Validating More than Just Data

I had always been aware of data validation. However, I had never quite seen the potential. Jay Atwood talks about keeping a menu of items in a separate tab in your sheet which you can easily make into a validated columns when collecting raw data. Another interesting use that I came upon is using a data validation cell is a button to select a particular focus. I found this via a video from Ben Collins who documents how to use the VLOOKUP formula to make a dynamic table. (You can actually find one built into the gradebook template in Sheets.) I took this further and made a dynamic table based on a CSV download of a simple timetable. Collins has also written a guide to creating wildcard to search through a data set. While the team at CIFL have developed a thorough introduction to the possibilities of the VLOOKUP formula.

Formatting

One of the big differences between Sheets and Microsoft Excel that I discovered early on with my use of GAFE/GSuite was the absence of formatting. It did not necessarily concern me. However, I worked with some teachers who were frustrated by this. Over time, Google has improved the formatting within Sheets. Now you can merge cells, add alternate colours and change direction of text. Although Sheets does not have the variety of preset formatting options, the Explore Tool now makes its best attempt to provide useful recommendations.

Colourful Conditions

Although it is easy enough to apply a conditional formatting to a set of numbers, it is not as obvious about how to deal with categorical data. The answer is to combine multiple single colour rules. Another useful trick is selecting the ‘awesome’ box with the conditional format menu open. This will then show all the rules applied throughout the sheet. Also, as you select each one, the range being affected is highlighted in the sheet.

Life Made Easier with Formulas

Last year, I decided to analyse my blogroll in an attempt to appreciate the diversity or lack thereof. I started by downloading my OPML file from Feedly and opening this up in a sheet. I then progressively went through my 200+ rss feeds and replaced them with the website, as well as the various categories. I recently discovered that I could have imported some of this data using the IMPORTFEED formula. In part it was Tom Woodward who uncovered this possibility for me through his post on exploring WordPress. The further that I go, the more I realise that formulas afford so many more possibilities than what is offered in the menu. For example, sorting using either filters or dropdowns can be limiting and restrictive. The SORT formula does the same thing, but with more of the nuances.

In Scripts with Trust

Moving on from formulas, I have also being toying around with a few scripts and addons lately. This has included:

      • TAGS Explorer: Martin Hawksey’s Twitter visualisation tool.
      • TimelineJS: the tool from KnightLab to build a visual timeline from a spreadsheet for representing timelines.  
      • Epic Rubric: Alice Keeler’s script for creating, collating and sending out rubrics to students.

More than building formulas, I feel that scripts involve a bit more effort and patience. Sometimes things do not work, but that is part of the learning to work backwards working out where things may have gone wrong. Usually it involves me breaking code that I was not meant to touch. I must be honest, I am still yet to properly dive into scripts and APIs, but know that is probably one of my next moves.

Creative Sheets

One of the areas that has surprised me about exploring Sheets is the various creative activities that seem to rise. Whether it be Tom Woodward’s play on magnetic poetry, Alice Keeler’s idea for pixel art, Eric Curts random emoji writing prompt generator and Jay Atwood’s use of text rotations to create a shape poem. Activities like this always leave me rethinking the limits as to what an application like Sheets may have to offer.


So that is me, what about you? Have you had any experiences with Sheets? As always, comments welcome.


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A Comprehensive Guide to Google Chrome

 Why Chrome?

Web browsers have come a long way from the days of depending on Netscape or Internet Explorer to view anything. Now there is a range of options, such as Mozilla Firefox, Safari, Microsoft Edge and Vivaldi. In the past, you were often required to use a certain browser to access a particular site. This is sometimes still the case when it comes to particular applications, where the support and development are focused on a particular browser and even a particular version. However, for much of what we do on the web is accessible across all browsers, the choice now becomes about the various features provided by each.

There are many benefits to Chrome. It is fast to launch, load pages and search. The design is simple and customisable. In regards to security, it sandboxes tabs, preventing what happens in one impacting another, while auto-updates run when you close the browser. In relation to privacy, you are able to customise a number of the settings in order to control what is shared online, this includes the incognito mode which allows you to browse without the keeping a search history or logins. It must be noted that running as incognito does not protect you from cookies tracking you, while the extensions are turned off by default. Overall, Chrome is the most popular browser used.

Timeline of web browsers

The Basics of Chrome

When new to Chrome, there are some things to get your head around. Firstly, the different icons, such as menu, download and information. Associated with these, there are the usual functions found in modern browsers, such as back/forwards, refresh, home button, new tabs and windows.

Going to the next step, tabs offer a range of options, including the ability rearrange tabs by dragging them around, pulling tabs out of the strip to start a new window, dragging a URL into the strip to add a new tab and preventing the accidental closure by pinning a tab.

Bookmarks, on the other hand, allow you to easily store sites for later. To do this, you can use the star at the end of the URL, dragging a URL into the bookmarks bar or right-clicking to save all the tabs in a window. There is also options for organising bookmarks into folders. Although you could use social bookmarking to save links, keeping them in a folder offers benefits such as opening all the links with one click. Some possibilities for this maybe keeping all the files for a project in one spot.

In relation to convenience, signing into Google Chrome, rather than simply the web page, allows you to sync bookmarks, passwords, web history and settings across devices. This syncing includes both desktop and mobile devices. The benefit is that if you are using a different device you are simply able to pick up where you left off.

To take security a step further, you can encrypt your sync data with a sync passphrase. Doing this encrypts your data and allows you to use Google’s cloud without letting the algorithms read it. For most users, Google’s standard level of encryption is enough. However, it is at least an option.

At the heart of Chrome is the act of searching the web, whether it be by voice, image or text. Although we may simply enter a few words, there are many components that work together before we are fed back a result. Some of these elements include awareness of the latest news, identifying different spelling options and sorting content based on age appropriateness. In addition to this, there are many tips and tricks that are built into the browser to support users with getting stuff done, answering questions about entertainment, connecting information, getting facts and traveling smart. This includes such actions as the quick conversion of the latest currencies or solving a Pythagorean theorem. All of this can be done from address space at the top of the page. Unlike other browsers which separate these two functions, they are combined in Chrome. It is for this reason that this space is called the Omnibox.

Overall, Chrome offers a lot, sometimes the biggest challenge though is working efficiently. This is where keyboard shortcuts become so important. Although you can find a full list here, these are some of the most useful ones:

  • Bring back closed tab: CTRL + SHIFT + T = Reopens the last tab you’ve closed. Google Chrome remembers the last 10 tabs you’ve closed.
  • Clear your browser: CTRL + SHIFT  + DEL = Takes you directly to the page to clear browsing history, cache and cookies.
  • Switch to previous or next tab: CTRL + TAB = move to the next tab to the right and CTRL + SHIFT + TAB = move to the next tab to the left
  • Jump to specific tab: CTRL + #NUM = go to specific tab

Although these shortcuts may be useful to some, it is important to remember that it is always best to look at the full list and identify those habits that are most important to you. Also, for something more visual, check out this infographic from Hubspot.

Personalising Chrome

Although Chrome provides a lot of functionality, one way in which it really stands out is the ability to personalise it just for you. One of the most common ways to personalise Chrome is by adding multiple accounts. It is becoming more and more common for people to have multiple Google accounts, whether it be one for work, another for training and then a personal one. There are numerous ways of using different accounts in conjunction. For something quick, it can be easy just to use an incognito window. However, for more repeated uses, it is better to add another account in settings. To differentiate, it is useful to give each one a unique name. For the security conscious, you can even add an account that is not actually aligned to a Google account. However, unless you set up the sync passphrase, you will no longer benefit from sharing between devices.

Once you have added the various accounts, you can then easily move between the different accounts. Chromebooks even allows you to quickly change between different accounts, using the shortcut CTRL-ALT-Period or CTRL-ALT-Comma. However, it needs to be noted that this is not automatic and needs to be turned on within an instance of Google.

Another point of personalisation is the addition of a theme. These are accessed via settings in the Chrome menu or directly through the Chrome Web Store. Like adding a personal front cover to a workbook or a sticker to a laptop, themes offer a way of adding your own aesthetic touch to your browser. Although themes do not provide any added functionality, they can be useful in differentiating between accounts, especially when you have quite a few that you move between.

In regards to Chrome, the real personalisation comes via the adjustment of settings. Some of the things you can do include:

  • Changing what is shown at startup or in a new tab.
  • Adding and removing features like the home or bookmarks bar.
  • Modifying the privacy settings associated with things like networks, cookies, pop-ups and plug-ins.
  • Adjusting the presentation of content, whether it be the size and font of text or the translation of language.
  • Clearing your cache and browsing history.
  • Change download location.
  • Customise your search engine shortcuts in the Omnibox
  • Managing certificates and passwords.

Many of these changes often have little visible impact on how Chrome works. Instead, they often influence what is happening in the background around tracking and the way in which it is actually used. For a more in-depth exploration, Doug Belshaw has written a post reflecting on security and privacy associated with Chromebooks and therefore Chrome.

Going Further with the Google Store

Going beyond the usual functionality, Google Chrome provides access to a number of add-ons which allow users to extend the browser’s functionality even further. Whether it be access to apps or installing extensions, Chrome provides the means to not only personalise how you use it, but also take it further by adding additional functionality.

Apps

A core part of the internet experience is hosted web apps. Unlike applications that you might install on the hard drive of your computer, these are hosted in the cloud and continually updated without you needing to do a thing. Along with browsing the web, Google provides a suite of productivity apps collectively called G Suite (formerly Google Apps). This collection includes such apps such as Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, Drive, Sites and Gmail. These are automatically added to your Google Account and are accessible via the apps launcher.

In addition to these core suite of apps, there is a range of third party apps that you can add to your collection via the web store. These apps often allow you to log in using your Google Account. Some examples include Seesaw, Padlet, Canva, Verso, Feedly, Pocket and Powtoon. The reality though is that for the general user these are merely links to web pages and adding them to your app launcher simply means that they are bookmarked across all of your devices. There are however benefits for schools using G Suite for Education as they are able to easily deploy apps out to registered devices.

It needs to be noted that initially there were two types of apps: packaged and web. The difference was that packaged apps ran more like desktop apps often providing their own interface and usability, including the ability to run offline. Support for packaged apps on Windows, Linux and Mac is progressively being removed due to their lack of use. A part of the reasoning is that with HTML5 you are able to incorporate offline storage, meaning that the need for packaged apps is not the same. However, it would seem that with the addition of Android apps that this is a constantly evolving area and may become more and more prominent with Chromebooks.

Extension

The other way that the personalisation of Chrome allows you to go further is with the addition of extensions. An extension is a small program that adds functionality. They often use the application programming interfaces (API) provided by the browser to transform the way in which Google Chrome works. APIs though are in no ways unique to Chrome and are a part of the interrelated way in which many applications work. They offer developers a way incorporating different features, without recreating the wheel. For example, rather than create your own mapping program, Google provides the means of incorporating Google Maps. It needs to be noted though that in many respects the relationship between applications provided by APIs is a fragile one and may be broken at any time. For a richer discussion of APIs, I recommend reading Ben Werdmuller’s post.

Chrome provides developers a number of APIs. Having been created over time, this list is forever evolving. Some of the APIs currently provided by Chrome include Storage to designate where to information is kept, Commands to add shortcut keys, ContextMenu to add items to the context menu and Identify to get OAuth2 access. A good way of appreciating API’s is that when you add an extension (or an app) you are usually asked to give permission. So when asked if you ‘give permission’ it is in part saying do you allow access to the APIs.

For example, Extensify allows you to quickly enable and disable extensions. It does this by using the chrome.management API which manages the list of extensions/apps that are installed and running. It needs to be noted that in making these extensions and apps free, some companies will mine your data and pass this on as a point of revenue.

Coming back to extensions, the number of options is somewhat limitless. You are never going to add all of them at once. The focus instead should be on add those which help improve your workflow. To make sense of the options available, I find it useful to differentiate between those that change the way Chrome works and those that support efficiency.

Changing the Way Chrome Works

There are many ways that Extensions can change the way Chrome works. Some relate to the visual nature, others the overall functionality. Some examples include:

  • Cluttering: There is nothing more annoying than having your page filled with distractions. Just Read and Pocket take away the clutter and saves articles in clear readable view. While BehindTheOverlay allows you to close an overlay, such as those created by sites, such as Sumo Me. In regards to YouTube, DF YouTube and Turn Off the Lights provide a means of just focusing on the video. DF Youtube allows you to remove things like recommendations and comments, while Turn Off the Lights simply blacks out the screen except for the video.  One of Chrome’s perceived benefits is its clean layout. However, this can soon become busy when you begin to add a range of apps and extensions. Extensify allows you to easily turn extensions on and off. This not only speeds up the browser but means that you do not necessarily have to restrict yourself in regards to what extensions you add. Similarly, App Launcher Customizer for Google allows you to reorganise the app launcher to suit you. In regards to tabs, Too Many Tabs provides you a way  to manage any overflow.
  • Accessibility: Some have problems reading text online, others navigating the web. There is a range of accessibility extensions available to support users with Chrome. For those who struggle with actually reading, there are options for listening, such as Read&Write, Speak It! and Announcify. While those who want to change how information is presented, extensions such as Hover Zoom, High Contrast and OpenDyslexic provide a means of reformatting information. Eric Curts has written a detailed post unpacking some of these things further.
  • Functionality: One of the frustrating things on the web is having to modify the settings of various sites each time you go there. CraftyRights forces all Google Image searches to be for images free of copyright restrictions. One of many Crafty’s Extensions that improves the overall functionality of Chrome. Tab Resize, Tab Glue and Tab Scissors allow you to organise the tabs the way you like. Google Dictionary and Grammarly provide quick and easy language support with spelling and definitions. Although, sadly, at this point in time Grammarly does not work for Google Docs. Silent Site Sound Blocker allows you to easily block sounds, especially useful in regards to ads and news sites which often play automatically. Lazarus: Form Recovery saves information  so that if something happens midway through filling in a form, there is a backup.
  • Privacy and Security: Although Google build in a range of measures within Chrome to make the browser more secure, there are still further measures that you can go to in order to take it to the next level. In regards to privacy, Adblock Plus, Ghostery and Privacy Badger allow you to block malicious content and cookies. While HTTPS Everywhere automatically encrypts the web, especially useful for sites which do not provide this. A leading figure in this area is the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Efficiencies and Workflows

In regards to improving efficiencies and workflows, these are often either about speeding up a process or providing a means of making the web more personal. Some examples include:

  • Additional Functions: Many extensions simply provide additional functions that are activated with one click. Those like OneTab and Tab Saver allow you to save tabs for later, something particularly useful when doing research. Send This Link and Mail Checker give easy access to Gmail, without opening it up in a new tab. 1-click Timer builds a visible timer into the browser. Goo.gl and Bit.ly allow you to quickly shorten a URL. Screencastify and QuickShare Screenshot provide the means to capture images and video and then save to Drive. While ColorPick Eyedropper and ColorHexa Search Tool give you the various colour codes and schemes.
  • Sharing Content: Maybe it is a post or a PDF document, whatever the content there are a number of ways of sharing it on to someone else or another platform. Google Drive, Google Keep, Pocket, Flip It, Classroom, Pearltree, Pinterest, Padlet Mini and Trello all provide the means of organising content elsewhere.
  • Annotating the Web: Taking the act of sharing a step further,  Diigo Web Collector allows you to bookmark links, annotate content and capture images. Similar to Diigo, Hypothesis provides the means to collaboratively annotate and tag web pages and documents. Kami provides a means of annotating PDF documents, however beyond the trial period you need to purchase a license. There are a few more options discussed here
  • Additional Information: TLDR and sentiSum use algorithms to provide shorter summaries to lengthier posts and articles. Although these extensions offer a convenient solution, it needs to be noted that summaries can be problematic and do not necessarily clearly present the main ideas. In regards to referencing, Cite This For Me allows you to appropriately source information using a range of styles. Using the associated website you can also build-up a bibliography. For further technical details, BuiltWith Technology Profiler provides information, such as code library and framework, that a site may be built upon.

What is clear is that there is an abundance of options when it comes to apps and extensions. You can even create your own using the Chrome Apps & Extensions Developer Tool. There is also a range of resources to support you.


In the end, whether you are changing the settings, using shortcuts or adding apps and extensions, what is important is to focus on what fits your needs and purpose. You might actually find something that better suits what you do, but only you can decide that.


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A Comprehensive Guide to Blogging Platforms and their Niches


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The term blog derives from ‘web log’ and was initially coined to describe “discrete entries (posts) typically displayed in reverse chronological order.” This though has evolved over time. Now it incorporates a range of different tools for creating and communicating. Having said this, they often come back to a core set of features.

In a presentation written during the heyday of weblogs, Dave Winer unpacks these core features. At a basic level, Winer says that it all comes back to:

  • A single voice
  • Publishing descriptions and content
  • Identifying each post with a permalink
  • Allowing for comments
  • Archived and organised chronologically

Beyond this list, Winer touches on a range of what he describes as core elements. This includes how descriptions and posts are rendered, the infrastructure used to connect, the type of content allowed and the way content is outlined, including the use of blogrolls.

Although written over ten years ago, these  features have not really changed. Some may have been removed or others given precedence, but the structure remains the same. What I think is significant is that in some respect everything is optional. It is this fluidity that make each tool unique. So here is a summary of some of the different tools available, what they enable and where their biases lie.

WordPress

The most common blogging platform, WordPress is said to be responsible for a quarter of the webpages online. One of the reasons for the popularity of WordPress is the versatility provided through the plugin architecture and theme templates. Whether it be adapting posts or pages, tags or categories, it offers many possibilities. Another reason for the success is that it is open source, therefore anyone can fork it and develop it further. Subsequently, because of this adaptability there are a few different iterations that have developed over time.


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WordPress.Org

WordPress.org is the open version that anyone can self-host. As a platforms, it allows you to not only deploy a wide range of themes and plugins, but also make your own modifications to the code. In turn, you can turn the site into whatever you like. You only need to look at the work of Alan Levine to get a feel for what is possible, including the DS106 Assignment Bank, SPLOT Project and Photo Gallery and Presentation Blog. This freedom comes at a cost as it means that you need to be more mindful of backing up, system updates and site security.

Further Resources

  • Beginner’s Guide to WordPress – An extensive collection of tutorials to everything associated to WordPress. There are many modifications amd workarounds that are not usually found on more generalised sites.
  • WordPress.org – The place to go when looking for general support material, as well as reviews of themes and plugins.
  • Cog Dog Blog – Although not solely focused on blogging, Alan Levine often includes detailed posts outlining things that he has done with WordPress. I find this useful in making sense of what is possible.
  • Getting Started on WordPress (IndieWeb) – The IndieWeb is a space that has been set up to support users in taking more ownership of their presence online through the use of various plugins.
  • (Re)Claiming My Space on the Web – A reflection on my experience in transferring from Blogger to WordPress.org via Reclaim Domain.
  • Why WordPress? The 2016 Version – Still a Fan – Tom Woodward reflects on why WordPress is still his platform of choice.


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WP.Com

Unlike a self-hosted instance, WordPress.com provides a more secure, hassle-free service. This means that there are limited themes, no direct change to the code within the template and only select plugins available through the premium plan. The benefit is that system updates and backing up are taken care of in the background, however unless you upgrade this means advertisements on your page.

Further Resources

  • Self Hosted WordPress vs. Free WordPress ­ Explanation of the differences between free WordPress and self­hosted (which the school website is).
  • WordPress.com Support – A collection of support material associated with WP.com. It touches on topics such as publishing, customising and connecting.
  • Easy WP Guide – An extensive step-by-step guide to WordPress, unpacking each element.


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Edublogs

An educational blogging network, Edublogs is a version of WordPress somewhere between .org and .com. It provides a safe and secure platform with a range of benefits, such as secure plugins, the ability to moderate posts and comments, as well as excellent support. The downside is that you are sometimes limited as to what you can do based on the plan you are on.

Further Resources

  • The Edublogger – A community blog sharing everything associated with Edublogs, whether it be blogging with students or simply the latest updates and changes.
  • The Edublogs User Guide – As Global2 is a part of the Edublogs community, this user guide can be useful when trying to figure out some of the different intricacies.
  • 10 Ways To Use Edublogs To Teach – A video unpack some more possibilities to consider when it comes to blogs.
  • Global2 – A collection of resources associated with Global2.
  • Your Global2 Blog by John Pearce – A presentation unpacking everything from tags to widgets. A good run through of all the different things to consider.


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Kidblog

Another student blogging platform, Kidblog provides a safe and simple environment for students to communicate. One of the selling points is that the teacher as administrator is able to seemingly control everything. This includes passwords, post moderation, levels of access, categories and custom widgets. In addition to this, classes are able to connect with other classes without even leaving Kidblog. The benefit of all of this is that is that it allows students to focus on sharing. The problem though is that in making the process so seamless, students are deprived of the hard fun involved in actually creating your own space or keeping up-to-date with other blogs. Of concern, there are no plugins available to support exporting content for the purpose of backing up.

Further Resources


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Blogger

Blogger is a relatively straightforward platform. It provides a range of options, such as HTML and tags, but tries not to overly complicate things (a complaint often made about WordPress.)  In regards to infrastructure, it has a simple back-end. Although it is easy to use, this in part comes at the cost of versatility and individuality. You can adjust themes by adding in widgets and how they sit on the page, while you can add CSS code to make some changes. However, you do not have the ability to make the wholesale changes like with WordPress.Org, therefore there is a certain repetition when it comes to overall templates.

Owned by Google, there are benefits of direct connection to services such as Adsense and Google+. Subsequently, comments can be connected with Google+, while you are also able to easily link to other Google+ users. This can though be problematic if you decide to move services. Beyond these connections there are no plugins.

In the end, Blogger is a great place to start if you already use other Google products. However, there is always the fear that Google may decide to moth ball the service as they did with Google Reader. There is also the chance at any time that Google may close your site down if you have breached any of the terms and conditions.

Further Resources


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Tumblr

On face value, Tumblr seems no different to any other blogging service. It allows users to publish various types of content, as well as continue the conversation through comments. In regards to the infrastructure, the dashboard is fairly simple, while when it comes to themes you can either choose from those provided or customise your own using the HTML editor. For many, the draw card is the visual archive which is somewhat unique to Tumblr.

Where Tumblr differs from other services is the sense of community created around the culture of follows, likes and reblogs baked into the code. Although platforms like Blogger and WordPress have a space dedicated to following other blogs, the visual nature entices engagement. Associated with this, you are able to drag in media from elsewhere. Tumblr is very much a curated space. A creative repository of the web. As a site it exists somewhere between Twitter in regards to its open feed, Pinterest with its visual layout and Known in its celebration of the short form.

Further Resources


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Known

A lightweight publishing service, Known provides the means to share a range of content. It is fully responsive and is easily accessible via the browser. As a platform, it offers a range of possibilities, such as a digital locker that you syndicate elsewhere, a community space for people to connect or as a more personal short blog. Compared to other offerings, Known’s strength is not necessarily in its appearance, but rather what it allows you to do. With the ideal being to help people to take more control of their online presence it integrates with a range of other services. Due to this intended flexibility, you very much create your own iteration. Want comments, enable them. Want multiple users, enable them. Want to customise things using CSS, enable it. Through the plugins you are able to truly personalise the space to your particular needs. In addition to this, as it is open sourced it has been designed to be forked allowing for many other nuances.

Further Resources


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Medium

For some, Medium represents a blogging ideal. A one stop shop where you can post, comment, highlight, bookmark, collaboratively drafts and connect with different users. There are two glaring problems with this. Firstly, if you want to exist outside of Medium it is not made easy. Alan Levine has documented his efforts to make sense of the RSS feed, while you are unable to download your content in a form that is usable. The second matter is the feel of the space. There is little room for personalisation, while you are limited to the basics of text formatting. (I should.recognise that some like Mike Caulfield explain that there are benefits in bare basics formatting.) In addition to this, the profile pages are somewhat limiting.

With all this said and done, I think that Dave Winer sums up the problem with Medium best when he warns about it becoming the consensus platform. Like with Kidblog, the move away from the open web for the sack of convenience risks putting control in somebody else’s hands. It is for this reason that I always recommend posting elsewhere first before sharing Medium.

Further Resources


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Weebly

Similar in some respects to Storify, Weebly involves dragging and dropping various elements in order to create your content. Whether it be a title, a video, contact form and custom HTML you simply place the parts together like a jigsaw. This means creating a blog requires little expertise. In regards to the overall layout, there are a range of customizable pages, for some the simplicity within these can be frustrating.

Like WordPress.com the basic plan is free. However, this comes with advertisement. The different plans come with greater benefits. While like Kidblog, Weebly Education also lets you create 40 student accounts for free with no student emails required or advertisements.

Further Resources


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Seesaw

A content management system that works across all platforms, Seesaw provides the means to capture learning in a range of forms. Like spaces such as Edmodo, you can create groups and classes. However, what is different is that even with just one iPad in a classroom you can quickly allocate artefacts to different students. Recently, they added a new blogging feature. This allows you to curate student content in a central group space and post it out as a blog. As with most educational platforms, there is the facility to moderate posts. In regards to overall contents, parents have the power to download their child’s content, while schools that have subscribed to Seesaw for Schools have the ability to do a bulk download of.the student data. It is unclear where blog posts fit within all of this. Interestingly, there are many similarities with Kidblog, from the connections to the lack of RSS.

Further Resources


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Google+

Another alternative to the usual short informal forms, such as Known and Tumblr, is Google+. A social media platform, Google+ is designed to connect together different products, such as YouTube, Google Photos and Blogger. It is divided into three parts: collections, communities and the main stream. Whichever section you post in, you are able to incorporate different content type, including images, videos and links. It also allows for the use of hashtags within the writing. There is no avenue to embed content within a post.

What is unique about using Google+ as a platform is the ability to specifically control who sees what is posted. Basically, you can post for specific people, a circle, a community or simply for the public. In regards to reading, you are able to see a summary of someone’s viewable posts in the profile feed, while you can also use third party application to generate an RSS feed. Like Medium, there is little means for changing the look and feel of the site.

Further Resources


The reality is that there are many other blogging options available. Some educators use secure spaces like Scootle Community, others utilise different social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. Some utilise different services. like Storify, to suit their purpose, while others take a more nuanced approach, installing services like 1999.io or Pelican  and going from there.

In the end, it comes back to purpose. If I were starting out with blogging, either personally or as a class, I would sign up to Edublogs. They provide fabulous support, either through the Edublogger blog or via the likes of Ronnie Burt and Sue Waters. The next step personally would be to purchase your own space online and install your own instance of WordPress. This not only provides control over data, but also more options in regards to what is possible. Although this requires a little more effort, there are enough educators out there ready to help that it makes it achievable if you are willing to dive in. Another option when self-hosting a site is to use Known. Like WordPress, Known is open source. Although a seemingly simple site, it offers to possibility to build the web, but also own your presence there. It all depends on context.

So what about you? What service do you use? Why? Have you used any other platforms in the past? As always, I would love to know. Feel free to leave a comment?


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REVIEW: Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus by @Rushkoff


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It is easy to be mesmerised by the purported benefits of the digital age. The ability to easily and efficiently communicate, consume, connect and create though often comes at the expense of older more established modes and mediums, such as telephones and newspapers. A vision of supposed freedom and hope has been converted over time into the poster child of digital industrialisation and growth-based economics.

Grounded on the operating system built by the chartered monopolies of the 13th century, companies like Apple, Twitter, Google, Pearson and Amazon are in a race to become ‘the one’ company to rule them all. Sacrificing sustainability, the focus is on cashing in on short term gains via acquisitions and public offerings. This culture of disruption, of sprints, start-ups and pivots, often leads to a scorched earth policy of success at all costs. Whether it be the automation of jobs or the decimation of communities, change and innovation is not always positive or productive for the majority of people.

According to Douglas Rushkoff, it is not all doom and gloom though. For just as we can identify where these ideas of capital at all costs come from in the past, so to can we look back to find alternative solutions to such perils. Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus provides a vision for a future built around the exchange of value, rather than the extraction of capital. A future that focuses on a mixture of local and national currencies, as well as focusing on both family cooperatives and international corporations. A return to the ethos of the bazaar, that is spaces designed to maximise the exchange of value and the velocity of money. A digital renaissance if you like.

Similar in vein to David Price’s OPEN, Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus is a story for our time. With eye to tomorrow, Rushkoff provides suggestions and solutions already being explored by some today.  The choice though is left to the reader to make the next step to link these seemingly disparate ideas to help form a better tomorrow together.

For a different view of the book, flick through the slides for a collection of quotes:

While for a visual introduction, see the following clips:


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Making My Own Maps with GSuite


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I recently wrote about powering up blogs by adding video, audio and GIFs. Another form of content which you can add is an interactive map by embedding a Google My Map.

Google Maps has been a staple of Google’s applications for a long time. However, something that is often overlooked is the potential of creating your own maps. In the past, the place people often went was Google Earth, using features such as Tour Builder, while more recently Maps Engine Lite offered a way of customising traditional Google Maps.

One significant changes in rebadging Maps Engine Lite as My Maps has been to house the files within Google Drive. This has made it easier to create, collaborate and share various creations of space. You are able to easily make layers, add place marks, draw shapes and create directions. To take this to the next step, you can also import information via a spreadsheet. Uploading can be good if you have a long list of coordinates. While you can also export data from My Maps as a KML file. This can be useful if you want to add information into Google Earth.

In addition to this, you can add content to the place marks or shapes, whether this be a description, image and video. This then comes up when you click on the marker. In addition to this, you can also change the place marker icon and colour of the shape. Therefore giving you with another layer of meaning.

Some ideas for using Google My Maps include:

What is good about My Maps is that it provides a different way for communicating information and telling a story. So what about you, how could you use My Maps? As always, comments welcome.

Additional Resources


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Google Slides 101


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GAFE Summit Session Description

For some Google Slides is just a dumbed down version of PowerPoint. However, the collaborative nature opens up so many different possibilities. This session will explore intricacies associated with Slides from sharing presentations, to changing themes, to importing media, to creating ebooks. It will be jam packed with practical samples and examples. Aaron hopes to spur on new ideas and start the conversation about why you should start using Google Slides more today.

IDEAS:

There are many ways of using Google Slides. It like to break it down into four sections:

  • Presentations. Just like PowerPoint, Slides provides an easy way to use the templates provides to present information. However, going a step further, using the shapes, animations and image manipulation, Slides allows you to create a Comic Strip. See this example from Eric Curts to make more sense.
  • Collaboration. What makes Google Slides stand apart from other platforms is the ability to collaborate. At a simple level, this involves develop ideas together. For example, Karly Moura uses it to introduce blogging with Google Slides. Going a step further, Slides provides the means to give feedback during the editing stage, as well as critique of ideas  and information. Jon Corippo uses this ability to collaborate to facilitate Iron Chef lessons where different student’s form different groups and take on different roles.
  • Interactions. Going beyond the basic presentation. Slides provides a means to create interactive presentations. For some this means games. See for example Eric Curts remake of Jeopordy. In addition to this, the ability to create links provides the means to create Choose Your Own Adventure stories. Animation.
  • Publishing. Another possibility that Google Slides makes possible is desktop publishing. Whether it be creating a newsletter, a mock-up for a website or an an ebook. What makes Slides different is the ability to embed these files on the web.

ACTIVITIES:

Have a go at completing one of the following activities:

RESOURCES:

Google Slides Cheat Sheet – A great introduction by Kasey Bell covering all the key features

Tips for Anyone Making the Switch to Google Slides – Some tips and tricks from Jayne Miller to help switch, including using shortcuts and templates

Using GAFE for Interactive Stories – A presentation from Sylvia Duckworth looking at creating interactive stories using a range of applications, including Docs, Slides and Youtube

Jeopardy Game 5-Topic Template – A template created by Eric Curts for creating your own game of Jeopardy

Way More Than a Slide Show: Creative Ways for Using Google Slides – A good introduction to Slides from Jesse Lubinsky, especially useful in regards to making interactive presentations

Slides Carnival – A collection of free templates for Google Slides

Iron Chef Style Lesson A lesson plan from Jon Corippo and Iron Ed-tech Chef a great example from Anthony Speranza and Riss Leung

Student Guide to Collaborative Google Slides – A guide for students from Alice Keeler to support students will collaborative assignments

Editing Images in Google Docs and Slides – A resource from Kasey Bell unpacking some of the intricacies associated with editing and manipulating images

Using Google Slides to Teach – A crowdsourced document collecting together a range of ideas for how to use Google Slides created by Alice Keeler

Google Slides as Newsletter Platform – A guide from Miguel Guhlin on using Google Slides to create a newsletter

Mawhera Taniwha: Google Slides and Google Drawings – A reflection from Allanah King on using slides and embedding this into a website

Create an eBook with Google Slides – The Gooru explains how to resize a Sheet to quickly create an eBook that can then be downloaded as a PDF

10 Google Slides Activities to Add Awesome to Classes – Another useful collection of ideas from Matt Miller

Creating Interactive Google Presentations and Google Slides for Student Created Storybooks – Guides to making different types of interactive presentations from Eric Curts

Website Design with Google Slides – A video from Josh Pomeroy demonstrating the potential to use Google Slides to create a mock-up for a website

Google Demo Slam: Epic Docs Animation – An amazing animation created by a group of people over three days using Google Slides

Learning Google Slides and Advanced Search Through Star Wars and Jurassic Park – Jeff Bradbury uses Slides to create animations.

How to Create an Interactive eBook with Google Slides – Rob Kamrowski provides a series of guides for using Google Slides to create an eBook.

8 interactive Google Slides activities for classroom excitement – Another collection of ideas from Mitch Miller, including a collaborative slide book and an online course.

Game Based Learning: Google Slides Coordinate Plane Battleship – Alice Keeler provides a different take on Slides, describing the possibility of creating a collaborative work space.

Presentation Zen – A joint effort between Heather Dowd and Patrick Green unpacking how to make a great presentation.

Adding and Modifying Charts in Slides – Richard Byrne provides an introduction to the new function of being able to use charts from Sheets within Slides.

Google Slides – Using templates – Baz Roberts goes over the intracies of using templates with Google Slides.

Q&A and Google Slides – Jordan Grant outlines the new question and answer function associated with presenting using Google Slides.


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