Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Google Apps at York

Mike Dunn, from our Teaching and Learning Team, puts your working life in order with the help of Google Apps.

Time for a rant. I get really irritated when my email inbox is filled up with stuff that doesn't belong there. It would seem that some people haven’t yet figured there are other ways to communicate or convey important information. And I don’t just mean Facebook and Twitter:
“When are you free to discuss…?” – please look in my Google calendar and invite me.
“I’ve attached this document…” – couldn’t you just share it with me? Where am I supposed to put it? How many copies do you want hanging around? 
“I’ve shared this Google document with you, and in it you’ll see…” – I’m going to read it, so you don’t need to tell me what’s in it, do you? If you want to comment, add comments to it! 
“Attached is a form [Word document]. Please fill it in and return it” – I can’t fill it in, you’ve designed it for printing and it doesn’t work on screen.
So how can we connect with each other when we need to manage working and collaborating? Here are some Google thoughts.

Meet me under the clock…

Make sure you share your Calendar with anyone you need to make arrangements with, and that they likewise share with you. If you assign ‘See all event details’ or ‘See only free/busy’ permissions they can see when you’re free but won’t be able to vandalise your events.

When you need to get together with several others, add them to the invite list for the event, but then choose Find a time. This will show you everyone’s calendars together so you can check the time is OK for everybody.

If you’d rather suggest several different times and pick the most popular, you can use an application called Doodle. It’s not part of Google, but you can link the two so all the possible times show up in your calendar as ‘tentative’, and when the final slot is confirmed only the ‘definite’ remains – all automatic.

Can you take a look at this and suggest some changes?

Conventional Word documents are not really designed for collaborative work, but documents on Google Drive are. Suppose you’re working on a group project. One of you makes a Google Drive folder and shares it with everyone else (with Edit permissions). Now every Google document created or moved inside the folder can be viewed and edited by the whole group – even at the same time, and you don’t have to be together (so it’s fine if you’ve gone home for the weekend). No need to start emailing documents about.

If you’re not all working at the same time, that’s fine – you can suggest changes or add comments, and sort it out later. If you’re not all in the same place, you could use a Google Hangout to take a look together. Hangouts let you do video-conferencing without needing any special equipment – just a laptop with a web cam and microphone. You can invite several people, share and capture screens and even add silly hats and facial hair (not normally available on video-conferencing applications).

Back in Calendar, if you want to make sure everyone can find the document(s) they need to look at, you can use the Add attachment option in an event to include a link to the Google document(s).

When you’ve finished changing the content, if you need features that are only available in Word, just download the Google document and convert it for final editing.

Can you fill me in…?

Collecting any sort of information or data from several people can be a chore. Do you email the request? Do you send a document with questions? How will you get it ready for any processing? Google Forms are brilliant for collecting information. You design the form (adding text boxes, drop-down lists, option buttons etc) and send the link to the people you want data from. They fill in the form on screen and the responses are collected in a Google Spreadsheet, ready for you to process.
If you make the form in a shared folder on Drive, all your collaborators will be able to work on it, leave comments, generate charts and so on. And Google Spreadsheets have almost all the same functionality as Excel, plus a few extras to make collaboration easier.

This won’t fit through the letterbox

Google Drive has tons of space, and you can upload photos, PDF documents – anything you want to be able to access easily online – with the knowledge you can control exactly who has access. It’s far more secure than using USB pen drives, and gives you the flexibility to work wherever you are, even when you’re doing some collaborative group work.

Now where did I put that floppy disc? I need to back-up the Internet . . .

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