Microsoft Office has long dominated as the most popular software choice for word processing, spreadsheets, and other academic work. In recent years, though, Google Docs has gained in popularity. Boy, has it ever. While I'll defer the Google Apps vs. Microsoft discussion for another time, in this article, I'll focus on some specific cool new features Google now includes.
Google has added five new features that should make Docs even more useful, particularly for students.
Google Docs is already great for sharing, collaborative work, and saving documents in the cloud. As usual, though, Google is ratcheting up functionality, making it harder than ever to deny as a classroom tool.
Take a look at these five new features and how they can help you and your students be more productive this school year.
Five new Google features to use in the classroom:
1. Google research assistant
Every student who has ever written a paper has dealt with it at one time or another. You’re pounding away at the keyboard, making serious progress on your paper, when you hit a point that needs a little more research.
Whether you're a middle school student just starting to the hang of the research process, or a high schooler looking for a more disciplined approach to a research project, speed and thoroughness are still premiums in our fast-paced world. The last thing you want to do is slow down when you're searching for the next gem of support for your assignment.
Unfortunately, that usually means switching to a new tab, browsing online to find the facts, and then incorporating that research and the sources into the paper. All of that clicking and switching between tabs can slow down your progress and eat up a considerable amount of time.
With Google’s new Research feature, you can simply open up a Google search box within the word processor. When you find the information you need, you just highlight and copy it over into your document. No tab switching required.
2. Google voice typing
Let’s face it - some students just aren’t skilled typists. Unfortunately, many students get so frustrated with their typing limitations that they don’t put the time necessary into their work and cut their paper short.
Google’s new Voice Typing feature can solve that problem. When you’re in a Google Doc, you can simply turn on the Voice Typing tool. Google will then use your computer’s microphone to pick up your voice and convert it to text. Simply put, you speak the words and they show up in your document.
This kind of web-based functionality has its roots in assistive technology and specifically text readers (text-to-voice) functionality provided to blind users of computers. Also known as screen readers, the technology actually dates back to 1968 when the internet was the domain of only the US Department of Defense and a few researchers. Long before web accessibility was mandated by federal law, blind and disabled people were searching for ways to interact with computers.
But now that the internet and Google – which has become the de facto gateway to all things internet these days – are a part of our everyday lives, everyone can enjoy the fruits of assistive technology.
3. Google 'Explore'
This feature is a powerful tool for anyone who uses spreadsheets to organize data. Students can often have difficulty identifying the most important trends in their spreadsheet data and then converting those trends and insights into impactful charts and tables.
With the new Explore feature, Google Sheets will find those trends for you. When you turn on the Explore feature, a sidebar in Sheets will open up. That sidebar will then display charts based on the most important pieces of information in your data. As you update the data, the charts will update in real time, allowing you to instantly see how different information affects your data’s outcomes.
If your students use spreadsheets on a regular basis, this tool could help them better understand their data and present it in more compelling terms.
4. Google change tracking
This is a feature that Microsoft introduced to Word in recent years. Now Google has it, too. When students are working together on a group project, there can often be multiple people making multiple changes to a document. Especially during a tight deadline, it can be hard to know who made which changes.
Change tracking resolves that issue. Edits to the document are highlighted. When you click on an edit, a sidebar opens up showing who made the edit. There’s also space for team members to make comments, reply to comments, and chat in the document about specific changes. Writing a group paper has never been so easy.
Change tracking is just another example of the importance of online collaboration and finding ways to do it better. Campus Suite uses Google docs and the change tracking. This feature is critical to our collaboration. The sooner kids get used to communicating this way, the more prepared they'll be for collaborating in the digital world outside the academic realm.
5. Google templates
Sometimes your document’s appearance is just as important as the actual content. That’s why Google has added a template library. In the new template library, you can find thousands of sample reports, presentations, white papers, worksheets, and just about any other type of document you need.
To use a template, you simply download it into your Google Drive account. Then you load your content into the pre-designed template to create your own attractive, formatted document. It’s like having your very own graphic designer on-call. For students personalizing a report, teachers creating classroom-branded materials, or schools creating consistent looks for widely used communications, Google templates can add a higher level of professionalism to your school.
More than 5 reasons to consider Google in the classroom
Let's face it: Google's not going away. Google is ingrained in the educational landscape. More and more schools are considering Google Apps for Education. For good reason.
If your school and students have been longtime Microsoft Office users, it might be time to take a look at Google Docs. These new features, as well as Google’s strong sharing capabilities, make it a perfect solution for academic work.
So whether you're considering a comprehensive dive into implementing Google in your district, or one-off teacher wanting to use some of the great things Google has to offer, you'll definitely want to check out these new features.
What cool feature would you like to see Google come up with next?
Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @jay4schools.