Google Forms – new look, versatile tool

Google-Apps-640x350Forms are one of the most useful tools in the Google toolkit. For some time, however, users have been looking for more functionality and an improved appearance in the product.  It’s finally here with the recent announcement that Google Forms has a range of new themes and options, including the ability to customise the theme with your own image.  These changes have really lifted the appearance and make them a great deal more appealing.

New to Google Forms?  This Tour of Google Forms is prior to the themes upgrade but gives a clear introduction of the main features for the uninitiated.

Forms have a multitude of uses from data gathering, questionnaires, competitions, analysis of an embedded video, surveys, self-graded tests, short story competitions … the list is endless.  Google educator Molly Schroeder’s examples of Using Google Forms is a source of inspiration, although once you start using them you won’t be short of ideas yourself.

At the recent Melbourne Google Summit the professional conversations around the use of Google tools was inspiring.  With so many schools now using Google Apps for Education, the Summit was an ideal place to pick up practical tips that could immediately be applied to the classroom.   In this video Chris Betcher, another leading Google educator and generous sharer of knowledge, explains some of the lesser known, innovative features in Google Forms.  Chris’s Google Summit resources site is packed with ideas and assistance.

A colleague who attended the Google Summit with me has been ‘set on fire’ with the functionality of Chrome extensions Doctopus and Goobric, using them to manage the workload of senior Maths and Accounting classes. It is certainly worth exploring Google Apps for Education and tapping into the resources of the many knowledgeable educators associated with it.

Put the Google Drive Blog in your RSS feed reader to keep posted on the constant improvements.  The Google Educast podcast on the Edreach Network is also a favourite of mine for keeping in touch with Google Apps for Education news, ideas and application to the classroom.  So much to learn, thank goodness for our Personal Learning Networks!

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Google Cultural Institute – art, history, geography


If it’s been a while since you last visited the Google Cultural Institute, it’s time to revisit but be sure to leave time for exploration.

The Institute now consists of:

  • Google Art Project: Containing artworks, sculpture and furniture from large and small galleries across 40 countries. See the art in situ in galleries with a walkthrough using Google Street View. Explore the interiors of landmarks such as the Palace of Versailles or, build and share your own virtual art gallery
  • Historic Moments: Glimpses of significant moments in history have been created from primary source materials by people who have a story to share. The Solidarity and the Fall of the Iron Curtain: Poland 1980
  • World Wonders: Bringing modern and ancient world heritage sites to life using Street View and 3D modelling. Explore the natural wonders of Kakadu National Park and the historic archaeological areas of Pompeii.

See Collections:

An added experience for those who have become, or wish to explore Google+ Hangout is to host your own virtual tour and become a Tour Leader in the great art galleries of the world.  Simply go to Google+ (you’ll need to sign in to Google with your account) and ‘start a video Hangout’.  You’ll see the invitation to take a tour presented on the screen.

This value of this resource as a learning tool is immense. Whether the activity be historical, artistic or geographical, Google Cultural Institute offers the opportunity for students to interact with the content and to create their own objects by exploring the work of others. It’s highly recommended and supported by lesson plans for a range of year levels.  Start exploring today!

Mindmap integration in Google Docs

thinking Many schools, including my own, use Google Apps for Education (GAFE).  As such, I was interested to discover the new partnership between one of my favourite mindmapping tools Mindmeister and GAFE.  With the new MindMeister add-on, (accessible via the add-on tab within a Google Doc) users can turn any bullet-point list into a MindMeister mindmap and automatically inserts it into their document. The mindmap adopts the exact hierarchical structure used in the list and adds a visually appealing graphic to the document.  It’s free and doesn’t require a MindMeister account.  The map created is not editable so students need to do the thinking and planning before they convert it to a mindmap.  Nothing lost however, as they can always delete and re-do if they need more details.  As we are basically visual learners, this is a useful, easily accessible learning support tool. There are many, many online, collaborative mindmapping tools available.  A couple of other favourites are:

  • Bubble .us – ‘Freemium’ model also with full access but limit of 3 maps.  Good collaborative interface.
  • Wisemapping – Free, open source, collaborative and able to be embedded into websites.
  • iThoughts – very popular IOS tool for iPad and iPhone

Comments and suggestions for other recommended options are welcome.

Mind tools – What does it mean to be literate in the age of Google?

With the holidays here, we thought we could share a longer video with you, particularly given it’s one of the best videos I’ve watched about information literacy. It’s comprehensive, current, and logical in its flow. I thought I knew a lot about information literacy – now I know a lot more.

The presentation comes from Dr. Daniel Russell, research scientist at Google and took place in March this year at the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) at the University of North Carolina.

He begins by calling a library a mind tool that ‘amplifies your cognition’. Wonderful stuff.

We hope you have a happy, safe, chocolate filled holiday and we’ll see you next term.



Using search operators

Search operators are everywhere – embedded in searches without our knowledge. But with a little practice, you can improve and refine search results by actively choosing which operators you use. Google is a global search phenomenon, mainly due to its ability to simplify web search. They’ve achieved this in part by automating and hiding deep search operators, simplifying the user experience. Every time you enter more than one word into Google, it creates a Boolean search, inserting AND between each word. What this does is prioritises pages which include all of the words in your search. Although Google makes some refinements for us, we can still improve our searches with simple operators. Try adding the terms and symbols listed below to search engines, databases and catalogues to see the difference. It’s important to note some common operators won’t work in Google because they’ve developed their own terms for certain functions. You can find search tips in the Google search guide.


Wildcard operators let you substitute one of more letters with symbols. This lets you search for words with multiple spellings, singular and plural forms, parts of words or even words you don’t know how to spell. Asterisk * An asterisk stands for any number of characters and is particularly useful when you are searching around the root of a word. Here are a few examples:

  • pigment* – pigment, pigments, pigmentation
  • writ* – write, writes, writer, writers, written, writ, writs
  • myth* – myths, mythology, mythos

Question mark ? A question mark stands for one character and is very useful if you are uncertain of spelling. More than one question mark can be used for multiple characters.

  • relev?nce – relevance or relevence
  • ?nquiry – inquiry or enquiry
  • licen?e – license or licence
  • ?????ology – psychology, musicology, oceanology


Quotation marks around a phrase or number of words prioritises results containing the exact phrase.

  • “Box Hill”
  • “oh my love is like a red red rose”
  • “Albert Einstein”


Minus is a very useful operator if you know that a word has multiple meanings in different contexts and you only want to get results from one of these areas. In Google the minus sign must be next to the word being omitted with no space preceding.

  • magpies -football will return results about birds and not Collingwood football club
  • batman -comic is more likely to return results about Victorian pioneer John Batman instead of the caped crusader…

Minus is very powerful as it tells search engines to throw out everything including the word you’ve chosen so use in moderation.

Proximity operators

Proximity operators look at how words appear on a web page, specifically how far apart they are. The assumption behind this kind of search is that the closer two words are together, the more likely they’re related. For example:

  • kangaroo NEAR kimberley finds results where the first word (kangaroo) falls within 50 words of the second word (kimberley)
  • kangaroo w/10 kimberley finds results where the first word (kangaroo) falls within 10 words of the second word (kimberley). The proximity number (n) can be any number you like. eg. (w/100, w/33, w/70)

Boolean AND/OR/NOT

Boolean search, incorporating the operators AND, OR and NOT, was common before Google, but nowadays it’s often dismissed as being too complex. This is a shame because Boolean can give you more control over complicated searches, refining down very quickly to specific results. It’s important to note that AND, OR and NOT must be in capitals for search engines to recognise them as operators. As mentioned in the introduction, Google already puts AND between words when you type them into a search, so you don’t need to include this operator in a Google search.  NOT works very like the minus operator, dictating what you want to omit. OR allows you to broaden your search to include overlapping areas between search terms.

  • dogs OR cats (this will find pages about either dogs, cats or both)
  • dog NOT cat (this will find pages about dogs that don’t mention cats)
  • dogs OR cats AND training NOT football (this will return results about training your dog or cat, but will exclude results about football clubs called cats or dogs)

Search operators are a great example of how we can be much smarter than search engines when we’re active searchers instead of passive consumers of Google results. A powerful idea for students in particular! For further information, the Gale Group has a great page on search operators and this guide to Boolean originally from the Syracuse University Centre for Science & Technology provides, includes some simple examples of search strings.

Image credit:  Alfred E. McMicken,(1936)  Interior of library, possibly Greenville [picture], State Library of Victoria Pictures Collection

Searching Google with your voice

Today’s guest post comes from Bev Novak. Bev takes a look at the new Google search app for IOS devices and tests out the voice search feature. 

Released a couple of days ago, I just discovered the latest Google search app and I must say it’s really cool!

Designed for both the iPhone and iPad, this latest update allows you to search just by asking a question! Simply select the microphone icon on the new Google search page to instantly find answers to absolutely anything.

I’ve just had fun asking some very basic questions and had graphic returns within seconds:

What year was Napoleon born?

What is 10 Euro in Australian dollars?

What’s the weather tomorrow?

And if you want to be really impressed, just sit back and relax after giving the command ‘Play the trailer for the new James Bond movie’.

By using Knowledge Graph in its search technology the app is able to answer questions about people and places, says Google. Referred to in some reviews as Google’s attempt to take on Siri at her own game, the competition is certainly heating up with this new release and the winners are most definitely the users!

My one disappointment though is that none of the responses to my questions have elicited audio responses as they do in this video released by Google. I must admit though that even without audio responses I’ve been very impressed with both the speed and accuracy of responses. My mind is abuzz with the many different ways this can be used in our classrooms.

Have a listen and be inspired!

Thanks to Bev for taking a look at this interesting new Google search feature. This post originally appeared on the NovaNews blog, where Bev has some wonderful thoughts about teaching and learning. You can also follow Bev on Twitter

Google Cultural Institute

With History Week kicking off in Victoria today seems like the perfect time to take a look at the new Google Cultural Institute. The project brings together a number of historical and cultural resources from cultural institutions around the world. The site features a range of digitised items, curated timelines and a number of interesting digital projects.

The Cultural Institute features resources from institutions such as the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and Anne Frank House, along with photographic archives from organisations like Life and Getty Images. You can select the institution or decade you are interested in by clicking on the Explore button. Context is provided to many of the digitised items in the form of curated timelines produced by the relevant institutions.  A great example of this is the Imperial War Museum’s D-Day timeline.

Curated timelines provide context to the items displayed

The site also brings together a number of digital projects that you may already seen, such as the Google Art Project or  World Wonders (with streetview images of the Great Barrier Reef and Scott’s Hut). A particular favourite with library staff has been the Versailles 3D project, where you can help Louis XIV build his palace.

While the curated timelines and digital projects offer a great deal of value, you can also browse archives using a general search term. Items can be narrowed down with a date slider and modified by topics such as place, event or object type. It’s a similar process to a standard Google search and may suggest that soon the Cultural Institute will be a standard Google search option in the same way News, Images and Video are now.

It’s clear that Google aims for the Cultural Institute to become a repository for a range of artefacts from across the world, moving items from individual websites to a single archive. It is an interesting move to try and create a place where all cultural material can be stored and seems to continue Google’s attempts to position themselves as the holders of culture and knowledge (as they are also doing with their book scanning project). Whether their lofty ambitions are successful remains to be seen, while some may again call into question the true motivations of the company. But for the moment there is no doubt that the Cultural Institute is a useful site and well worth exploring.

Google launches Search Education site

Google has recently launched a new Search Education site which aims to help teachers and students hone search skills. The site includes a number of lesson plans (aligned to the U.S. Common Core Standards) and could form the basis of an interesting discussion with students about search and search literacy.

The lesson plans often refer back to the A Google a Day site or feature activities based on an introductory video like the one below. This video is worth a look. Not only does it give a nice overview of how Google indexes pages, but it would also be worth examining with students the claims made at the two minute mark that Google “don’t ever accept payment to add a site to our index, update it more often or improve its ranking.” You might have students consider the validity of this claim and show students how to distinguish between paid advertisements and unpaid results. Comparing Google results to other commercial or academic search engines would also be a worthwhile exploration of how search engines work.

While some educators bemoan the increasing reliance on Google by students, any resources that help to demystify search and help students search more effectively are useful additions to the classroom. Like any resource it is important to speak with students about the credibility of the Search Education site. Have a discussion about the reasons it has been created and the intentions of Google. This will not only help students become better searchers but also help them be more critical about evaluating the reliability or bias of websites they visit.


Permission slip

Those of you who follow the Victorian Police Twitter account may have noticed over the weekend an odd tweet about a magical weight loss technique. Most followers would have picked up straight away that the tweet was from someone who had gained unauthorised access to the Victorian Police account and the police moved quickly to inform followers and delete the tweet. (You can read more in this article about the tweet, with obligatory donut reference.) To see an official and trusted account accessed in this way is a timely reminder of the importance of keeping your accounts protected.

We’ve probably all received strange tweets or emails from our contacts, usually with a message that “This user is saying nasty rumours about you” or “I saw this photo of you and I’m laughing so hard” with a link to a malicious site. Because so many tweets share links using URL shortening services it can be difficult to see if a link is trustworthy just by looking at the address. Our tip would be to only open links from trusted sources, and make sure they have some context provided rather than just a general message like “I saw this site and thought of you”.

Twitter in particular seems susceptible to the problem, possibly because of the ability to connect a number of third party applications to your Twitter account. Being able to log in to different services using your Twitter account is very handy, meaning you don’t have to remember multiple passwords and making it easier to share links with one click. But the side effect can be that you are handing over partial control of your account. When you authorise an external service to access your account make sure that you read what the service will be able to do, and only authorise if you feel comfortable and trust the service.

Even if you have given permission to access your account, you still have the power to revoke access to an external service at any time. In order to secure your account and not see your followers or friends spammed with annoying or dangerous messages, we recommend doing a bit of housekeeping. Have a look at the services linked to your accounts and revoke permission to any that you aren’t using anymore or don’t trust.

To help you out, we’ve put together guides below to revoking external access to the three main accounts that you might use; Twitter, Facebook and Google.

Guide to revoking access to your Twitter account

Guide to revoking access to your Facebook account

Guide to revoking access to your Google account

Google Research Tool

Google have added an interesting new feature to Google Docs, the Google research tool. When you open up a document you will now see a sidebar which allows you to perform a web search. Results are displayed in this panel and can be quickly added to a document. If you can’t see the sidebar, you can display it by selecting Tools>Research.

We had a look at this new feature this morning, and recorded a quick screencast of our first impressions. Have a look at the video below to see how it all works. The drag and drop features certainly looks to be a time saver and the automatic referencing is also a handy tool.

At this stage only results from Google search are displayed, but we probably couldn’t expect other search engines to be included, could we? We hold out hope that other search options may be included in future versions. Once again, this may again lead to a discussion with students about the importance of cross checking information and using a range of reliable resources.

Despite this minor quibble, Google research tool certainly looks like a handy way to get started with research and to keep track of any resources accessed.

Have a look at our first impressions below.