5 Ways to Personalize Wallpaper on 3 Digital Devices

Personalizing a digital device with unique wallpaper is a great way to take ownership of your iPad, Chromebook, laptop, PC, or another digital device. To do this, choose the method below best-suited to your digital devices.

  • Method One: Use your digital device’s organic method of changing wallpaper. Most devices have 1) a wallpaper collection that’s available to users, and 2) a method of using images from user Pictures folder (or camera roll).
  • Method Two: Create your own wallpaper using school drawing program (such as KidPix, Paint, TuxPaint, Photoshop, or another). Save it to your digital portfolio. Use this personalized drawing under Method One or Four (as available). 
  • Method Three: Right click on an internet picture you like (that’s in the public domain) and select ‘set as desktop background’:

wallpaper 2

  • Method Four: Go to digital device ‘Pictures’ folder; select picture you like and ‘set as desktop background’.
  • Method Five: Go to one of the many wallpaper websites (‘wallpaper’ is another term for ‘desktop background’) and download one, then apply it using one of the above methods. Try National Geographic. They have beautiful nature wallpapers.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Time. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

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How Great is MS Office Mix

office mixI first met Office Mix a few years ago, before I had the required Office 2013 or higher. I loved the demo I watched, cried a bit that it wouldn’t work for me, and then forgot about it. Now that I’ve upgraded to Office 365, I’m eager to use all the features that got me so excited back then.

Before I get into those, let me back up for those who have never heard of Office Mix. It’s a free PowerPoint add-on that turns your existing PowerPoint slideshow program into a fully-featured presentation tool. Using the traditional slide decks you love, you can now collect all the resources required for a presentation, webinar, or book launch into one place including video (book trailer), narration (book blurb), audio (author interview), form (sign up for the blog hop), screen captures, photo albums (images related to your book), and more. Just like with PowerPoint, you start with either a blank slide or a professional-looking template. Once the slide deck is completed, you share it via link or embed it as a slideshow or video on any device.

Because Mix uses audio and video tools to communicate ideas, users are eager to view the result making it a perfect addition to a book marketing program.

How to get started

To get started, download the add-on from the Mix website. When you open PowerPoint, Mix will appear on the toolbar, toward the right side. Click and you’ll find the features that have made Mix a new favorite digital tool with so many educators.  You can watch a collection of how-to videos, but if you’re in a hurry, Mix is intuitive enough to skip right to the “get started” step.

Pros

Because most people already use PowerPoint, this feels natural. There’s nothing tricky; in fact, it’s intuitive and easy.

I like that you can include a Discussion Board, encouraging readers to add their thoughts and react to those of others.

Mix videos can be downloaded as .mp4s making them easily used in a wide variety of places, including a YouTube channel.

Cons

Mix allows you to embed a web page into a slide, which is cool, but it only allows those with https — the designation for secure sites. I was surprised how many sites don’t include that and were, therefore, unable to be shared.

You have to have MS Office 2013 or above to run Mix. This isn’t really a “con”, more of a warning.

Writing applications

There are dozens of authentic uses for Mix in your writing. Let me share the top three mentioned to me by my community:

  1. Use the screen recording tool to capture just a portion of a longer video (from, say, YouTube) and embed that into a slide.
  2. Videos recorded using the screen recording tool can be saved as a stand-alone video and embedded wherever you need (keeping in mind appropriate copyright protections) such as your book’s website or blog.
  3. Rejuvenate slideshows you created in the past by uploading them to your 2013 or later PowerPoint and “Mix” them by adding video, screencasts, audio, whiteboards, and more.

Overall, Mix is one of the most exciting free tools from Microsoft in years. It’s one of many of the free add-ons now available through MS Office and reason enough to update to MS Office 2016.

More on Microsoft tools:

8 Ways to Use Minecraft in Your Classroom

OneNote–the all-in-one digital notetaking app

Tech Tips for Writers #100: Top Nine MS OfficeTips


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 20 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning. Read Jacqui’s tech thriller series, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days.

What is Google Keep and Why Use it in Your Writing?

My daughter just bought her first house (though it went on hold several times as the Navy threatened/offered to move her). We wanted a simple way to share a ToDo list that would be available on phones, iPads, and computers, and would auto-update with our ideas. I looked at a variety of options but found something wrong with each of them.

Until I found Google Keep. It is marketed as a note-taking app — which it is — but trades sophisticated note-taking tools (like formatting) for simplicity. It is similar to iPhone Notes, but is more visual, syncs across all devices, and allows collaboration. You can add thoughts by typing or speaking (mobile devices only), as a narrative note or a bullet list, and include images from your collection, your camera roll, or by taking one with the native camera (mobile devices only). The title is auto-formatted to stand out from the rest of the note. You can organize notes by category or color, search for a particular note, pin the most important to the top, and re-arrange the collection by dragging-dropping. As in Google Reminders, you can set a location-based reminder to pull up your grocery list when you get to the store or a time-based reminder to make sure you never miss a parent conference.

It requires a Google account and — as with other Google Apps — the amount of space you get for saved notes depends upon your Google Drive size. It works on iOS, the web, Chrome (with an add-on), and Android.

google keep

Pros

Because Keep doesn’t include a lot of (rarely-used) tools, it is intuitive to learn, simple to use, and really quick to start up. Just tap the icon to open the program, tap to start a new note. That’s it. This is ideal when you want to quickly jot down a phone number or email address, or take a photo. You don’t need to fumble through an armload of start-up functions while whatever you wanted to note down disappears or is lost in your short-term memory. If you’re driving or both hands are busy, simply tap the microphone and talk. Keep records your audio and adds a text version of the message.

One of the most amazing features of Google Keep is that it will pull text from images (such as pictures of pages from a book) into typed text.

For Android users: You can add a drawing to your note and/or draw on an image that you took or is shared with you.

Cons

There are few formatting tools available (all you can do is color the note and add checkboxes) and no audio recording ability in the Web app. While Android users can annotate images, no versions at present allow for PDF annotation.

Writing applications

Many of my colleagues consider Google Keep an easy-to-use, easy-to-deploy note-taking option for students. Here are nine suggestions for using it in the classroom:

  1. Bookmark interesting links. While researching a topic for your next novel, copy-paste the links to a Keep note for reference. Most links show a preview in a list below the link collection so it’s easy to see what’s covered on that site.
  2.  Write notes to yourself. Because it’s easy to take and categorize notes, this is an ideal way to jot down quick notes and reminders like an appointment or phone number.
  3. Share information with others. Because notes are easily shared, this is great for group projects. Data that can be shared include links, images, screenshots, videos, camera shots (mobile only), and more
  4. Color-code a note for “WIP” and pin it to the top of the Keep canvas. This makes it quick to add ideas that come to mind anytime and then make sure you blend them into your WIP.
  5. Set time-based reminder alarms for notes and bookmarks. This alerts you to meetings, group projects, or anything that is based on a due date. It might even be to remind you to take a break from your writing and pet the dog!
  6. Set a location-based reminder. This reminder goes off based on the GPS location of the user (and their phone) in relation to whatever event you programmed the alert for. For example, you may set a reminder to bring a flier to your book club meeting that is tripped when you leave your home.

***

Overall, Alan Henry over at Lifehacker said it best:

Comparing Google Keep to Evernote is a bit like comparing a screwdriver to your favorite cordless drill. One is a generic, basic tool that can be used in multiple ways, but has its limits. The latter is a tool that can be used in place of the former, has a broader set of use cases, and is admittedly more powerful.

In short: Google Keep is an uncomplicated note-taking tool that allows users to take notes quickly, intuitively, and share them with others without the sometimes confusing mix of optional tools available in Keep’s more robust cousins

More on digital notetaking:

How to go Paperless in Your Classroom

5 Programs That Make Digital Notetaking Easy


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

How Google Docs Improves Writing

Google Docs is a free word processing program that does 99% of everything writers will ever need. What isn’t included as part of the Google Docs program tool can be augmented with mostly-free, third-party add-ons, extensions, and apps. It operates in the cloud so there are no syncing issues between the many places we write, pesky maintenance, or expensive yearly upgrades. The end result is a writing tool that is powerful, robust, scalable, and because it’s free, is the equitable solution to so many concerns over the digital divide.

It’s no surprise that Google Docs and its sister programs — Google Spreadsheets, Google Slideshows, Google Draw, and Google Forms — have taken writers by storm. While it does have a moderate learning curve (no worse than MS Word), once traveled, users quickly adopt it as their own and find many reasons why this becomes their favorite tool. Here are the top eleven reasons from the writers I talk to:

Always up

I’ve never had the experience of logging into Google Drive (where Google Docs live) and having it not open. On the other hand, I have often experienced that heart-stopping occurrence with MS Word when it suddenly won’t work or a Word file has become corrupted for no reason I can tell. Using Google Docs has probably added years to my life just in the lowered stress levels.

Always on

Because work is created and shared in the Cloud, you can access it from any Internet-connected locations by logging into your Google account. The latest version of your document is there, waiting. No worries about forgetting to save it to a flash drive or the email you sent to yourself didn’t arrive. This is great for writers who work from a coffee shop, their backyard and even their place of employment.

Autosave

google docs

All of the Google Apps (like Docs, Spreadsheets, Slideshows, Forms, and Draw) automatically save in the cloud as you work. There’s no need to Ctrl+S to save or scream when the power goes down and you haven’t saved for thirty minutes. Google takes care of that, auto-saving to their servers where you easily find all work in one location.

Collaborative

Google makes it easy for groups to edit a document simultaneously. Up to fifty people can add comments about your WIP at once.

Easily shared

You can share the file to anyone with a Gmail address to be viewed only or edited. You can also share by embedding the document into a blog, wiki, or website where people can view or edit (depending upon the permissions you award). This makes it easy to collaborate on work, share pieces with your critique group, or submit portions to editors and online ezines.

Revision history

Google Docs automatically keeps track of all revisions made to a document by anyone involved in the edit/write process. You can find this option under File>See Revision History (or click Ctrl+Alt+Shift+H) and it comes up in the right sidebar. From there, you can review all revisions or restore to a prior edition of the document. To be fair, MS Word has this also, but I’ve found it glitchy at best. In fact, more often than not, I have no history to click back to.

Lots of add-ons to personalize the experience

By partnering with third-parties, Google Docs is able to provide an impressive collection of enhancements, modifications, and extensions. You can find the entire list by clicking the Add-ons menu tab and selecting Get add-onsTo find what you’re looking for, you can search for a keyword, sort the add-ons into different categories, or simply browse. A few of my favorite add-ons include: Thesaurus, EasyBib Bibliography Creator, Open Clipart, FlubarooGoogle Keep, and LucidCharts

Works with MS Word

You can open MS Word documents in Google Docs to view (much as you view documents in cloud locations like Carbonite) or convert them to Google Docs to edit and share. Sure, there will be some changes, but not a lot (unless you’re an MS Word power user).

***

If you have a Gmail account, you already have the Google Docs program. Simply click on the Omni box (the nine little dots in the upper right of your Gmail screen) and select ‘Google Drive’. Once you’re there, you’ll have the option to create a New document, one of which is a Google Doc. Problems? Leave a comment below. I’ll see if I can help.

More on Google Drive Apps

Embed Google Docs

Dear Otto: How do I teach Google Drive to K/1?

Google Apps Support Bloom’s Taxonomy–Take a Look

21 Google Apps for Education Resources

Google Apps lesson plan


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Image Copyright Do’s and Don’ts

image copyrightsWhen I teach professional development classes, by far the topic that surprises attendees the most is the legal use of online images. And they’re not alone. On my blog, in educator forums, and in the virtual meetings I moderate, there is much confusion about what can be grabbed for free from online sites and what must be cited with a linkback, credit, author’s name, public domain reference, or specific permission from the creator. When I receive guest posts that include pictures, many contributors tell me the photo can be used because they include the linkback.

That’s not always true. In fact, the answer to the question…

“What online images can I use?”

typically starts with…

It depends…

To try to understand this topic in a five-minute blog post or thirty-minute webinar is a prescription for failure. It is too big a topic. Instead, I’ll cover only four main subtopics with a (very) quick overview and where you can find more resources to extend and self-pace your learning. Some of these resources are from my K-12 classes, so forgive me if they seem geared for youngsters (they are). Luckily, they are no less relevant:

Plagiarism

In general terms, you must cite sources for:

  • facts not commonly known or accepted
  • exact words and/or unique phrase
  • reprints of diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials
  • opinions that support research

Watch and discuss the online life of a photo posted by an unknowing student.

Digital privacy

Digital privacy is constantly under attack in a world where people post everything they do on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. 6 Degrees of Information reinforces how easy is it to find out about anyone by following the crumbs left during their online surfing. Next, watch Eduardo post pictures he considers innocent in Two Kinds of Stupid. Expand your learning by watching this video on Online Reputations.

Copyrights

Copyrights range from public domain—creative work that can be used without permission or notification—to intensely private—available only to view and usually on the host website.  Here’s a simple review of copyright law I use to start the discussion.

The law states that works of art created in the U.S. after January 1, 1978, are automatically protected by copyright once they are fixed in a tangible medium (like the Internet) BUT a single copy may be used for scholarly research (even if that’s a 2nd grade life cycle report) or in teaching or preparation to teach a class.

You can see details on the original law through this link. Or, watch the video, ‘Copyright Explained’, for an overview.

‘Fair Use’ is why students can grab online images without obtaining permission from the creator. It allows for a single use for educational purposes–nothing more. For more on this topic (especially if you have children), watch A Fair(y) Use Tale.

If you don’t qualify for Fair Use and are looking for public domain images through Google, the screenshot below shows how to adjust your search parameters to find only freely-available, legal online images:

copyright--available

The following sites provide mostly public domain images:

If you find an online image you like, figuring out if you can use it is often time-intensive but necessary. If you can’t find the copyright notice on the site that’s hosting the image, pick a different image. Here are two examples:

copyright pictures

The bottom one requires attribution—a linkback or credit–so I’ve provided it here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/crazymandi/.

Here’s a general collection of websites addressing copyrights and digital law that will help to address your specific areas of interest:

Make-your-own Graphics

A great way to avoid the worry about legally using online images is to create your own. You can use software such as Paint, Photoshop, and GIMP, or an image creation tool like:

If these don’t work for you, here’s a list of websites or apps with lots more options.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Twitter Chats 101–What are they? How do you participate? And why?

Vector of a blue bird with wings up on a white background.

I was chatting with efriend, Glynis Jolly, over at A Scripted Maze, about social media. Specifically Twitter Chats. I’ve been using Twitter Chats as a cornerstone of my professional development and learning network for a few years, but I still remember the first one I joined — that feeling of worry, trepidation, shyness, as I reached out to join a group of individuals who I was sure knew each other intimately. It was like going to a party alone, knowing no one and believing they all were BFFs.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Twitter Chats (sometimes called Tweet Chats) are a group of strangers brought together online by a common interest in a topic. Often, there will be a core of people who know each other (usually in the virtual world, but not the physical one) that provide energy and structure. The purpose is to share ideas and grow together.

Glynis asked three great questions:

How do you find out about them in advance?

Usually, whoever is holding the Twitter Chat announces via FaceBook or Twitter or their blog that they’re having a Twitter Chat at (say) 2 pm Thursday. They also give a #hashtag (say, #writing101) that interested writers use to participate. All you do is log into Twitter at 2 pm Thursday, search #writing101, and you’re in. Usually, the moderator asks everyone to introduce themselves (sometimes there are dozens; sometimes fewer) and then starts with a list of questions. Participants weigh in, respond to others, and learn. You can lurk the first few times–don’t even fess up to being there. Just read, listen, see if it suits you.

What are the most common topics discussed?

Twitter Chats address every topic imaginable from cooking to gardening to writing. I use them in the grad school classes I teach (go ahead and search #mti562) as yet another way to reach out to students who aren’t willing to put their hand in the air during class time. I join lots of Twitter Chats to provide myself with perspective on writing topics, get help on a problem I’m having, or simply to see what fellow writers are doing.

Debbie Oh puts out a Twitter Chat list that’s pretty comprehensive. Try one out.

When do they usually happen?

Since Twitter Chats happen all over the world, there’s no way to make the timing convenient for everyone. If you like a topic, but can’t get there during the prescribed time, simply search the #hashtag in Twitter and read the participant responses. You can also add your thoughts and reach out to particular attendees by using their handle (like mine is @worddreams).

If you’re interested in joining a Twitter Chat, here’s a webinar I put together about Twitter chats for the professional development classes I teach:

Questions? How can I help you get started?

More on social media:

21 Writing Tips From Twitter

How to Talk to People Online

4 Reasons You Want a PLN and 13 Ways to Build One


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and  Twenty-four DaysShe is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Google Forms: Great Tool for Indie Marketing

There are lots of free survey and polling sites (two popular options are PollDaddy and Survey Monkey), but often they limit the number of surveys you can create or how many questions you can include without ‘leveling up’ to a premium version. Among the writers I know who are always looking for ways to save their limited pennies, Google Forms is a run-away favorite. It is intuitive, flexible, professional, can be adapted to specific colors and images, and can be shared as a link or an embed. And there are many options that personalize the form.

Using available templates, a customized form can be completed in under five minutes. Responses are collected to a Google Spreadsheet (which is part of the same free Google Drive that includes Google Forms) that can be private or shared with participants and can be sorted and analyzed like any other spreadsheet.

How to use itgoogle forms

Google Forms is simple to use. Just follow these steps:

  • Open through your Google Drive (part of every free Gmail account), select ‘New’ and then ‘Forms’. Alternatively: Go directly to the Google Forms site.
  • If you get there through your Google Drive (New>Google Forms), you start with a generic form, much like the blank slides and docs you get in other Google Apps. If you get there through the Google Forms site, you’ll find six templates at the top of the page covering a variety of projects from an RSVP to data gathering. Select your choice and it will populate the template.
  • On the right side of the form are formatting options, from background and images to adding video and additional questions.
  • On the upper right are options for changing colors, previewing, and set-up.
  • Edit form title, questions, descriptions, and answers by clicking in the field.
  • When you edit a question, you get nine options for how you want the question answered–everything from short answer to multiple choice to other popular options. Some will require input on the questions (such as multiple choice). Complete those.
  • Indicate whether this is a required question using the slider button at the bottom right.
  • Drag-drop questions as needed to rearrange the form.
  • Any form question can be duplicated and then edited.
  • When you’re done, share the form by embedding it into a blog or website, or by sending out the link.
  • Track answers using the Response tab at the top of the form. This will populate as people return the form.

Here’s a video on how to use Google Forms.

..

How to use Google Forms in your writing

Here are my top five favorites:

Create an assessment for a writing class you teach

This can be a rubric, multiple choice, short answer, or other options. It can be based on information the student has prepared or something you shared in class (for example: You showed an image and ask students to select the right answer using the form’s ‘multiple choice grid’ option). Google will even grade the form for you, share results, and provide answer hints so they understand why the correct answer is the right choice.

Create request lists for your materials

This could be to request for a Review Copy or ARC (Advance Review Copy) of your latest novel, your appearance at a reading, or to find beta readers. The entire process is done online. The interested party fills out the Google Forms request form and you’re notified via email of the request.

Collect sign-ups for your blog hop

Interested people answer a series of questions about how they’d like to participate and when. 

RSVP

Use Google Forms to collect any activity that benefits from an RSVP response.

Collect data for your newsletter

Use Forms to collect data about newsletter subscribers or anything else associated with your writing activities.  

Here are examples of forms I created with this amazing program:

–first published on TeachHUB

More on Google in the classroom:

Embed a File from Google Drive

Google Gravity


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her non-books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for May, 2017. Click to follow its progress.

A to Z Challenge: This year, I’m doing it

I’m in! This year, for the first time, I’ll participate in the much-applauded, highly-acclaimed writer’s blog hop called A to Z Challenge.

My theme:

A to Z: Literary Genres

a to z

…a genre for every letter of the alphabet. I’ll include:

Definition

Writing tips

Popular books in the genre

I skipped the genre tips I did in the past. Many of these were new to me (like Kitchen Sink–who knew?) and I’m amazed how much I learned researching for this blog hop. Here are the genres I will cover in April:

A Alternative Fiction

B Biography

C Commercial fiction

D Dystopian

E Essay

F Fan Fiction 

Grant Proposals

H Humor 

I Inspirational 

Journaling

K Kitchen sink

L LGBTQ 

M Military  

N Nonfiction

O Occult

P Psychologic Thriller  

Q Quiet Horror

R Religious fiction  

S Serialized  

T Tragedy

U Upmarket 

Vignettes

W Women’s fiction 

X Xenofiction

Y Young Adult

Zombie Fiction

If you click on the link prior to the publication date, it won’t work. Come back though!

If you’re doing the AtoZ Challenge, please add your name and blog address to this interactive list. Then I’ll be sure to visit you each day. Thanks!

To see who’s responded, look below at this spreadsheet.


If you’re not doing AtoZ, please still visit and leave comments or virtual hugs. Ask me how it is going on Twitter (@worddreams); drop in on FB and let me know what you’re doing INSTEAD OF writing endless blog posts.

OK. We start April 1st. I’m ready (I think)!


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for May 2017. Click to follow its progress.

Great Writing Tool: Google Docs

Google Docs is a free word processing program that does 99% of everything a writer will ever need to do–write, edit, rewrite, and re-edit. If you have a Gmail account, you have Google Docs. It is part of Google Drive which you access through the nine-dot array in the upper right corner. Or, through the link: http://drive.google.com.

Google Docs operates in the cloud so there are no download foibles, pesky maintenance, or expensive yearly upgrades. While it does have a moderate learning curve (no worse than MS Word), once traveled, writers quickly adopt it as their own and find many reasons why this becomes their favorite tool. The end result is a writing tool that is powerful, robust, scalable, and free.

Here are the top eleven reasons why you might agree, from the writers I talk to:

Always up

I’ve never had the experience of logging into Google Docs and having it not open. On the other hand, I have often experienced that heart-stopping occurrence with MS Word when a doc has become corrupted for no reason I can tell. Using Google Docs has probably added years to my life just in the lowered stress levels.

Always on

Because work is created and shared in the Cloud, users can access it from Internet-connected locations and devices by logging into their Google account. The latest version of their document is there, waiting. No worries about forgetting to save it to a flash drive or the email you sent to yourself didn’t arrive. This is great for writers who work on their manuscript at their job and home.

Autosave

Google Docs automatically saves in the cloud as you work. There’s no need to Ctrl+S to save or scream when the power goes down and you haven’t saved for thirty minutes. Google takes care of that, auto-saving to their servers where you easily find all your work in one location.

google docsCollaborative

Google makes it easy for groups to edit a document simultaneously. Up to fifty people can add comments, revise, and format at the same time. This is great for group writing projects and when you are making changes with your editor.

Easily shared

You can share the file to anyone (like your editor) with a Gmail address to be viewed only or edited. You can also share by embedding the document into a blog, wiki, or website where people can view or edit (depending upon the permissions you award). If you are a freelance journalist, this makes it easy to collaborate on a piece, share with others, and keep everyone up-to-date in a fluid environment.

Research options/reference tools

The Research functions activate in the right sidebar when you select ‘Research’ from the ‘Tools’ drop-down menu, click Ctrl+Alt+Shift+I, or simply right-click on the word you want to research. From this one location, you can search online for articles, images, or quotes. When you insert directly from the sidebar, it will automatically add a citation as a footnote, referencing where you found your data. 

Citations

These are added automatically when you find information through the Research tool. This makes it easy to credit sources for non-fiction and freelance articles.

Reviwriting with google docssion history

Google Docs automatically keeps track of all revisions made to a document by anyone involved in the edit/write process. You can find this option under File>See Revision History (or click Ctrl+Alt+Shift+H) and it comes up in the right sidebar. From there, you can review revisions and restore to a prior edition of your article or novel. To be fair, MS Word has this also, but I’ve found it glitchy at best. In fact, more often than not, I have no history to click back to. I think MS Word 2016 is much improved, but haven’t experienced it yet. Anyone know?

Great for writers workshops

There is no easier tool to use if you teach Writer’s Workshops. With Google Docs, participants write, peer edit, and work together seamlessly. They are productive, energized, and dynamic.

Lots of add-ons to personalize the experience

By partnering with third-parties, Google Docs is able to provide an impressive collection of enhancements, modifications, and extensions. You can find the entire list by clicking the Add-ons menu tab and selecting Get add-onsTo find what you’re looking for, you can search for a keyword, sort the add-ons into different categories, or simply browse. A few of my favorites are Thesaurus, EasyBib Bibliography Creator, Open Clipart, FlubarooGoogle Keep, and LucidCharts

Works with MS Word

You can open MS Word documents in Google Docs to view (much as you view documents in cloud locations like Carbonite) or convert them to Google Docs to edit and share. Sure, there will be some changes, but not a lot (unless you’re an MS Word power user). You can also open Google Docs in MS Word.

***

If you have a Gmail account, you already have the Google Docs program. Simply click on the Omni box (the nine little dots in the upper right of your Gmail screen) and select ‘Google Drive’. Once you’re there, you’ll have the option for creating a New document, one of which is a Google Doc. Problems? Leave a comment below. I’ll see if I can help.

More on Google Drive Apps

Embed Google Docs


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

Unconventional Research Sites for Your Writing

writer researchI read recently that 70% of millennials get their news from Facebook. Really? Isn’t Facebook a place to share personal information, stay in touch with friends and families, post pictures of weddings and birthdays? So why do students turn to it for news? And then, not two days later, I heard Twitter has reclassified their app as a news purveyor rather than a social media device. Once again: Who gets news from Twitter? Apparently a lot of adults. No surprise news shows are littered with references to listener’s tweets and the President breaks stories via his Twitter stream.

One more stat — which may explain the whole social-media-as-news-trend — and then I’ll connect these dots: Only 6% of people trust the press. I guess that’s why they prefer blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.

Research is a similar change. Your grandmother relied on encyclopedias, reference books, and museums. Your mother probably looked to Google. But, if you aren’t motivated by Google’s snazzy list of hits you have to slog through, you won’t get a lot out of it. I have a list of eight research sites that walk the line between stodgy (textbooks) and out-there (Twitter and Facebook), designed by their developers with an eye toward enticing you in and then keeping your interest. Some are more suited to your children than adults — you decide.

It’s notable that most are free, but include advertising. The exception is BrainPOP — there are no ads, but it requires a hefty annual fee:

BrainPOP

Fee

BrainPOP is a collection of three-five minute animated movies, learning games, quizzes, and interactive activities for kids and teens addressing a wide variety of topics such as math, science, social studies, health, art, and technology. With the assistance of two quirky moderators, colorful graphics, and a clean uncluttered interface, kids are drawn to these easy-to-understand discussions on thousands of topics they’re studying. They can search based on subject matter, video topic, Common Core or state standard, or simply browse a list of videos. Selection can be either a theme-based video or a game (called GameUp) — whichever is better suited to their learning style. Optionally, they can take a quiz and send results to the teacher. It can be purchased as a single license or a district-wide offering. Besides BrainPOP, the franchise offers BrainPOP Jr (for K-2), BrainPop Español, BrainPop Français, and BrainPop ESL.

History Channel Great Speeches

Free

The History Channel includes a large collection of the most famous historic speeches in video and audio, including dropping the atomic bomb, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Jackie Robinson on racial taunts, and the 9/11 attacks.

This is a great primary source when researching almost any topic, but especially history.  You hear original phrasing, emphasis, and often reactions to dramatic events that — without recordings — would be simply words on paper to most of them, devoid of passion, emotion, and motivation.

25308581 concept illustrating evolution from books to computersHow Stuff Works

Free

How Stuff Works, available on the web, iPads, and Android, is an award-winning source of unbiased, reliable, easy-to-understand explanations of how the world actually works. This includes topics such as animals, culture, automobiles, politics, money, science, and entertainment. It uses a wide variety of media (photos, diagrams, videos, animations, articles, and podcasts) to explain traditionally-complex concepts such as magnetism, genes, and thermal imaging. It also includes Top Ten lists that address pretty much any topic, such as ten historic words that don’t mean what you’d think and ten things made from recycled wood.

You’ll find thorough discussions on topics you’re researching written in an easy-to-understand manner (that was great when I had to research the magnetosphere for my recent novel). There are also add-on articles that enable you to dig deeper. For those looking for more rigor, there are quizzes that evaluate knowledge and challenge learning (such as the hardest words to spell and Who Said That).

Info Please

Free

Info Please provides authoritative answers to questions using statistics, facts, and historical records culled from a broad overview of research materials including atlases, encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, thesauri, a calculator, the periodic table, a conversion tool, the popular Year-by-Year tracking what happened when, and the oft-quoted This Day in History.

Students 9-13 may prefer the younger-oriented Fact Monster.

NOVA Videos 

Free

NOVA Videos (part of PBS) offer high-quality, well-researched and professionally-presented videos on a wide variety of topics such as ancient civilizations, body and brain, evolution, physics, math, planet earth, space, tech and engineering, and more. It is not filtered for youngsters (though everything is G-rated), rather addresses topics with the intent of explaining them fully. Of great utility is a series of over 400 video shorts (most two-five minutes) on topics such as robots, ancient civilizations, and nature — all searchable by topic and date.

Besides video, topics may include articles, Q&A, slideshows, audio, documentary (or fact-based) TV shows, timelines, quizzes, links to other sites, and DVDs/books available for purchase.

Condom withSchoolsWorld.TV

Free

The UK-based SchoolsWorld.TV is a wonderful multimedia platform of films, games, and information you probably haven’t heard about. It is aimed at everyone involved in education, including students. Topics include math, science, history, geography, music, religious education, and more.

To use this site, filter by age group and then by the type of information you seek — videos, games, or PDF.

Smithsonian Learning Lab

Free

The Smithsonian Learning Lab curates the more than one million digital images, recordings, and text available from the Smithsonian’s nineteen museums, nine major research centers, the National Zoo, and more. The goal is to inspire the discovery and creative use of knowledge.

During searches, you can easily tag and annotate discoveries, save them into your account profile, and then share with others.

Zanran

Free

Zanran searches not only text (as is done by traditional browsers), but numerical data presented in graphs, tables, and charts and posted as an image. This huge amount of information can be difficult to find using conventional search engines, but not for Zanran (in beta).

If you’re looking for statistics or raw data on a subject, this is an excellent additional site to include in research.

More on research:

My Research at the Library of Congress 

5 Reasons I love Research

Writer’s Tip #26: Be Accurate


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for Summer, 2017. Click to follow its progress.