Let’s open up our laptops and turn to Page Larry. School is in session and Google is ready to make things easier for students with Google Drive. New features have been introduced and some old ones refined.
Not only is it free and cross-platform, but the Google Drive suite has become quite powerful, recently. You can now even use it offline on PC or mobile. Students are the future, so Google is adding student-centric features. The cool part? They’re useful even if you aren’t a student!
Type with Your Voice
Perhaps the coolest new addition is the ability to dictate in Google Docs in Chrome and have it automatically transcribed. Google is no stranger to the speech-to-text world—it’s one of the best features of Google Keep—and so this seems like a natural choice. The feature only works in Google Chrome, presumably using Chrome’s Web Speech API.
To access it in Chrome, open a new Doc > Tools > Voice Typing. Click the microphone icon next to your document when you’re ready to speak.
Voice typing is supported in 40 languages, with punctuation support for English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Russian. The punctuation voice commands are: “Period”, “Comma”, “Exclamation point”, “Question mark”, “New line”, and “New paragraph”.
In my test, it worked pretty well. Chrome’s Web Speech API isn’t as good as the results you get on mobile phones, but it’s still better than nothing. That said, I can’t imagine I could write a whole article with dictation.
— Jillian D'Onfro (@jillianiles) September 3, 2015
Also, the Strong Language blog discovered that Voice Typing is prudish. It won’t transcribe several swear words, although there are some context-based workarounds to this.
Overall though, this feature seems incredibly useful. It would give students with disabilities the opportunity to dictate their essays. Students could also instantly record and transcribe lectures. It’s dependent on the microphone of the laptop, though, so you might want to use an external microphone with good range.
For more on voice typing, check out Google’s Help page.
Explore Auto-Creates Visual Charts in Sheets
Even though Excel is better than Sheets, there is still a lot to love about Google’s spreadsheets app. Power users swear by Excel, so Google is making it easier for spreadsheet novices to understand data. The new Explore feature is all about automatic visual data analysis.
Suppose you have a template to manage your finances. As you make changes to the table and add entries, the data keeps on changing. If you’re not a numbers person, it can be overwhelming. The “Explore” tab provides relief, crunching all those numbers and turning them into neat bar graphs, X-Y charts, and other visual analysis.
All of this visual data is presented in a pane on the right. It auto-updates as you add new entries to your sheet. And if you want one of these visual elements in your main sheet, click the little “Insert Chart” icon next to any element.
Those studying statistics and economics probably won’t gain much from this. You lot can make your own cool graphs. But those like me who suffer from deer-in-headlights syndrome upon seeing a numbers sheet, this new feature is a godsend.
Research Comes to Android
As we found recently in our mega showdown, Google Docs trumps Microsoft Word for research, and one of the major reasons for that was the Research tool. What was earlier only a browser tool is now available on mobiles, too—Android specifically.
To access it, tap Edit (pencil icon) > More (three dot icon) > Research. The video above shows how to activate it.
Research on mobiles opens up a pane within Google Docs which acts as a mini browser. You can do a Google search to find information, copy-paste text from the pane to your Doc, and even find and insert images directly from the web.
It’s still missing two things I love in the desktop version of Research though: finding items from my personal Google Drive files, and looking up synonyms and definitions. Hopefully that comes to mobile soon.
Old Features, New Lives
Not everything Google introduced is a brand new, revolutionary feature for students. A lot of work has also gone in making old favorites more useful.
Revamped Templates: Google Drive already had plenty of templates to make your life easier, but life can always get a bit easier, right? All three apps have got new templates and a cool interface to browse and apply those. You can browse templates in Docs, Sheets, or Slides, and as always, check templates for students and teachers.
Revamped Editing: Last year, Google introduced edit-based suggestions that let teachers or those giving feedback change the content, while retaining the original words. In a collaborative document, it sometimes gets confusing to spot the changes. So Google Docs now has a “See New Changes” feature that shows you everything that is different since the time you left that document.
Revamped Forms: Using Google Forms effectively can help you in several ways, from getting your own life on track, to building and leading teams. Google just updated Forms to make it look better than ever with new color templates and backgrounds, and also made it easier to insert different types of questions, images, and text formatting.
One for the Teachers: Share to Classroom
Apart from the many student-centric new updates, Google has also thrown in something for the educators. Google Classroom makes teaching easier already, but it lacked one key ability: putting everyone on the same website at the same time.
The new Share to Classroom extension for Chrome lets teachers turn everyone’s screens in a class to the same web page with a couple of clicks. And students can also share their screen with everyone else. At the Google Classroom blog, one third-grade teacher recounts her experience in the pilot program:
The students aren’t locked to the page I send, and one student navigated from there to an even better site. With the Classroom extension, the student was able to push the new site to me, and I reviewed and pushed to the entire class. She had a boost of confidence when her discovery drove class discussion.
Share a Google Drive Tip for Students
If you use Google Drive regularly and have a tip for students, go ahead and drop a line in the comments below. I’ll go first: Go to Tools > Preferences and add automatic text expanders for words or phrases you use often. For example, I use the letter “q” followed by an abbreviation or acronym. So typing “qga” expands to “Google Android” and “qsgn” is “Samsung Galaxy Note”. Simple and incredibly useful.
What’s your favorite Google Drive feature?