Google just keeps on Giving!

This guest post was written by Andy Waters @peorbust.

In this festive season I wanted to explore some untapped Google resources that can help every educator become more efficient and effective in managing their time and getting that work/life balance right! A tall order I know, but even saving 5 minutes per task could add up and mean an extra hour at home and that would be a present I would welcome this year!

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So what are these Gifts from Google? The first group of products that I want to talk about are Chrome extensions. For any one that does not know, Chrome is Google’s own browser and extensions are plugins that you can download from the Google Chrome website. The extensions are similar to Scripts, in that they allow the user to automate a process or make that process easier. The 2 extensions that have caught my eye recently are both screen splitters and both do similar functions.

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NiftySplit

NiftySplit once downloaded and installed allows you to split your Google Chrome into two windows sat next to one another. The left hand window acts as the home page with all links followed displayed in the right hand window. This means when you are researching you do not have to keep pressing the back button but simply click on a new link in the home window. As teachers we spend hours sifting through thousands of resources every year and with this “Nifty” extension that time can be better spent actually planning how to use the resources once you have found them. It also allows you to compare resources quickly and effectively. For those amongst you that have multiple monitors “NiftySplit” now supports this set up making life even easier. Obviously, many people are going to think that this is not necessary as you can just bring up two tabs, drag them left and right and you have the same thing. But it is the fact that one window is linked to the other that makes this extension worth looking at!

Tab Resize

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The second extension is “Tab Resize” a handy extension that allows you to open multiple windows with a click of a button. The layout of the windows is fully customisable and again this extension also supports multiple monitor setups. The main advantage of this extension is that it opens new windows and not just extra tabs in the browser. This means that you can open any website that has security whereas if you open another tab in a window you will not be able to open HTTPS websites. This extension also allows you to resize multiple tabs that are highlighted and create blank tabs as well. As with NiftySplit, the ability to compare resources when researching will save the average educator hours when planning lessons so why not give it a go?

Google Calendar

Google’s Calendar seems to be the poor relation compared to the built in calendars in the Microsoft exchange bundle and most schools (even those that have GAFE) still seem to stay away from it. Historically, most schools held their servers locally and Microsoft was the only real option for a mail server. With the arrival of cloud based servers schools now have the option of “out sourcing” their servers and using products such as GAFE. The advantage of a cloud based system is the ability to log in from anywhere where you have an internet connection and from any device. You can still log in to Microsoft exchange servers but the process is definitely not as smooth.

Why should you use Google Calendar?

Google calendar is extremely similar in its functionality to the Microsoft version but with a few added bonuses. The first main difference is the ability to add attachments straight from your Google drive. This process is the same as when you attach documents for an assignment in Classroom and allows all invitees at the event to have a copy of the document. If you have to invite people to a meeting etc., you can invite them as a guest and control what access they have to the event on the calendar. They can have the ability to modify the event, invite others and to see the guest list. This is a brilliant feature for anyone leading a meeting or organising an after-school fixture or training. You can also decide to share calendars with other people and again can set the level of access they have to the calendar and events.
The second feature that really helps Calendar stand out is the ability to link with other online systems. The main one that I have been using is www.youcanbookme.com. This online system links to a Google calendar and means you can set up a free and very professional looking online booking system for parents evening etc. The ability to have total control over the system is fantastic and the fact that it leads straight into your Google Calendar is great. The team behind youcanbookme.com will also give you access to unlimited team members if you can prove that you are a non-profit organisation. Once you have linked up a Google Calendar to your free account you can create a separate calendar for each member of staff and set up a booking page (on the youcanbookme.com website) for them as well. You can edit the booking page to collect the required data. We used child’s name, tutor group, parents name and parents email to get all of the basic data and then linked the youcanbookme.com homepage to the schools website.
There is only been a handful of us that have used this system for now but it is working really well. Each time you get a booking an email is sent to the member of staff and the allotted time slot is booked on their calendar. If parents supply their email address they can also be sent a confirmation email.
The system is still being ironed out and we do have a few bugs, but on the whole it is working really well. Just before parents evening the calendar is printed off by the teacher using the Agenda view. This allows the teacher to get a list of appointments. Attachments can then be added for each individual appointment and can include anything from your Google Drive.
The calendars themselves can be used for a multitude of things from setting up a fixtures calendar for the PE department that can then be shared with all other staff to an equipment booking calendar for the science department so the lab technicians now what equipment is needed and by whom.
I hope you enjoy working with the products as much as I have, let me know if you have any feedback!

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