March 2015
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Teresa Almeida d'Eça, Freelancer, Lisbon Area, Portugal

I've never been a person to stick to a brand. I've always enjoyed the freedom of choosing a tool or app when it does what I expect it to in a user- and learner-friendly way. That’s how I started exploring Google, a world in itself.

Most of the apps I use are common ones: Chrome, Gmail, Search, Drive, YouTube, Google+, and Hangouts. Each represents something different to me, but all have one very relevant feature in common. They simplify my daily tasks, above all at the communicative and collaborative levels.

Google Chrome: A Window to the World

Google Chrome is an extremely powerful and versatile tool. And very reliable, fast, and user-friendly. It allows you to have multiple tabs open in the same window and keep your tabs better organized by using the "pin" tabs feature when things start to get out of hand. Pinned tabs reduce the tab size and send each one to the left end of your browser window. And they will always be there when you open or restart your browser. How do you do it? Simple. Right-click the tab you want to pin and select "Pin tab." To unpin the tab, right-click and select "Unpin tab."

Gmail: A Communications Center

Gmail keeps me in touch with anyone and everyone. Whenever and wherever I want.

GMail can be used for one-on-one or one-to-many communication. Creating groups is a time-saving feature. Creating folders (“labels” in GMail lingo) helps keep messages organized. You can also create filters to have messages skip the inbox and go directly to the corresponding folder/label. There are several other features that you can explore.

GMail is useful for professional development to submit queries and doubts to peers, and to give and get timely help. At the academic level, it can be used to send out announcements and reminders, for students to submit homework and projects, and for the teacher to give timely help.

Google Maps: A Location Tool

In a professional development online or face-to-face workshop, it's interesting to create a Google Map (GMap) for participants to insert their placemark to show where in the world they are or are from. This shows attendees what can be done in real time with students and trainees. Here's the map with the places of origin of the attendees in my Google Portugal Summit presentation. Your students can do something similar whenever they do a joint project with another class in their country or abroad.

When my students and I were awarded the international EU Schoolnet "e-Learning Award 2007," I created a GMap with placemarks for all peers who sent us greetings. Why? It was a very special moment for my students and me.

I also used GMaps for a school activity with my sixth-grade students (2nd year EFLers). At the end of the 2-year cycle with me, I planned their first-ever audio chat, in English, with teachers who had interacted with them for 2 years through the Comments feature in our curricular and extracurricular blogs. Students came up with the questions they would ask the teachers if they could "hypothetically" (I told them) talk to the teachers. When the time came, the surprise was complete. They reacted with great enthusiasm and several volunteered spontaneously to ask a couple of questions each. There were 12 questions in all. I recorded the interview. Their final task was to write a summary of what the teacher had said and write it in a placemark window inside a GMap that I had created in advance (to save class time). The results can be seen in this map.

Google Drive: A Collaboration Center

Google Drive allows you to create different types of documents: text documents, spreadsheets, slide presentations, forms, drawings, and maps. And you can add apps (add-ons) to these documents.

Drive allows 50 people to collaborate simultaneously, locally or globally, and to leave text and audio comments. For audio, you need Kaizena, an extremely powerful add-on for language learning, because students can get and give feedback both in text and audio.

While students work in a document, they can search, research, and quote from an online source and have it automatically cited. EasyBib is the add-on for this. When working in a joint project, they can collaboratively brainstorm ideas, plan, create, and produce their end product using different media: text, images, audio, video, and so on. Finally, they can share it with colleagues and the world—an authentic audience! If they want to go a step further, they can present it via a Google Hangout.

Drive also allows you to share documents. You can give privileges for others to edit, comment, or view documents. By default, files are organized into "My drive" (files that you create) and "Shared with me" (recently renamed “Incoming”: files that others create and share with you). But Drive also allows you to organize files in folders, and to work across devices and offline.

Last but not least, when giving a presentation about Drive, it's possible to "demo" everything in real time, from the creation to the sharing process.

Google Forms: Get Results and Feedback

With Google Forms, you can create pop quizzes, polls, surveys, and questionnaires with different types of questions: multiple choice, true/false, short answer, open ended. In the case of the first two types, you can get instant feedback. The answers are submitted with charts that include the total number of respondents and percentage for each answer.

Google Search: A Q&A Tool

This tool has three types of possibilities: text, audio, and image. Text is the most common one, and, I believe, the one that gave way to the "Google it" expression. You can search a word, expression, or question; get a definition of a word or expression; and search for conversions, sums, the weather...

If you click the microphone icon in the search field, you can use your voice to search.

You can also search for images related to a certain word, expression, or topic, or search using an image, called reverse image search. And you can search by URL to get similar images.

Google+: A Social and Professional Network

You can create your Profile and post to it with images, links, and videos. You can make your posts public or send them to specific Circles (groups of people); create Circles of friends and peers, and join personal or professional Communities; mention people by using "+name" (without the quotes) and they will be notified; click "+1," the equivalent to "Like" on Facebook; and share posts. Here's my Google+ profile.

Google+ is being used more and more by groups as their main communications center for professional development workshops.

YouTube: For Videos

YouTube is a huge repository of videos of all types, categories, and topics that cater to all tastes, interests, and needs. If you want something more specific to education and the classroom, there is TeacherTube, SchoolTube, and YouTube for Education, all with appropriate and safe content for the classroom.

If you want your own creations and resources in one place, you can create a YouTube Channel and organize your own Playlists. You're welcome to visit my YouTube Channel.

When watching videos in class, two tips are very useful. One is to use a decluttering program that allows you to show videos without distractions such as ads, comments, or lists of other videos. It's called ViewPure. Just enter the video URL in their site and click the "Purify" button. Bingo!

The second tip applies to longer videos that you want to start only at a certain point. Instead of cropping the video, you can just create a timestamp at the end of the URL that includes "#t=00m00s" (without the quotes). Here's an example of mine.

Google Hangout: A Virtual Meeting Place

Google Hangout is a social and professional get-together tool. It can be accessed through GMail, Google+, and mobile apps for smartphones. It allows for a video call with a maximum of 10 people, and you can run a simultaneous text chat, share your desktop, and even invite people to join the hangout while it's running, if there are vacancies.

Hangouts on Air are live sessions that are broadcast to the world, thus, public by default. However, you can make them "unlisted" so that only people with the link can find, join, and watch them. They're saved to the YouTube account of the person who starts the hangout.

Here’s a very helpful step-by-step tutorial about both types of hangouts. A tip I just learned has to do with the bandwidth setting slider. At the top center of your hangout window, to the right of the webcam icon, there's an icon with horizontal lines. Hover over it to adjust your bandwidth if you're having connection problems. You may also have to disconnect video and use only audio. Other attendees may need to do the same to help the person with a low-bandwidth connection.

As is true of most tools, Hangouts are fun to explore with a group of friends or peers to analyze all their potential. They should be used in class to make learning as authentic as possible. However, as with any other tool, the teacher should only use it when he or she feels comfortable with it. If need be, accept the help of students. It doesn't take away authority from you. On the contrary, it empowers students in a way that helps strengthen the teacher-student relationship.

Google apps allow us to accomplish a lot. How we use them is up to each of us. Imagination is the limit! Whether at the personal, classroom, or professional level, Google is bound to have a solution for you!

*Note: This article is based on this presentation by the author.

Teresa Almeida d’Eça is a retired EFL teacher, certified teacher trainer in edtech, award-winning teacher, and author. She’s been an edtech fan and advocate since 1996, having involved her students in blended learning. Her latest self-published work is Pronunciation Made Easy for Portuguese-Speaking Learners of English.

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