Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sharing Your Agenda/Minutes with Google Docs

Sending out agendas, updating them before the meeting and then sending out follow-up minutes can be time consuming, especially if there's an error that needs to be corrected and you have to send it out again. However, by creating your agenda with Google Docs and sharing it with your group, they will have a link to the most up-to-date information that can quickly be updated. Best part - no downloading or emailing necessary!


  1. Create a folder where all your agenda/minutes documents will be stored. Be sure to include your committee/department's name (eg: Web Services Meeting Agendas/Minutes).
  2. Share the folder with your committee members. As only you will be responsible for updating the content, the others only need the ability to provide comments. Information on how to setup sharing can be found at
  3. Create a document that will act as your template, including sharing (you can see an example at: As you create a new meeting's agenda, you can either create a copy of your template or duplicate/edit your previous meeting's agenda.

The Process

As long as you agenda documents are stored in the proper folder,  the committee members will have access at any time to see the agenda.

Here is the process for each meeting:
  1. Create your document for the meeting and update the agenda.
  2. Send out the agenda for feedback (you can use the Email collaborators command under the File menu).
  3. Committee members can leave comments ( or suggest edit changes (
  4. Before the meeting, go through and add/approve any changes to the agenda.
  5. During the meeting, make notes in the same document.
  6. After the meeting, clean up the notes and make any changes.
  7. Send our a message (see Step 2) letting everyone know the minutes are complete.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Screen Captures with Skitch

I create a lot of documentation and tutorials with Google Docs (it's the best way to replace PDFs). Of course, adding screenshots is always an important part of any good documentation. For that, my application of choice is Skitch.

Skitch ( is a free service/application provided by Evernote. It's easy to use, allows you to store your files within your Evernote account, provides easy sharing and has some great mark-up tools. What makes Skitch a winner for me is the ease with which I can drag my marked up screen shot to a Google Doc. I just click on the icon at the bottom and drag it onto my document. Quick and easy!

Here it is in action:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Get New Spreadsheet Functionality from Your Old Google Sheet Data

In the old version of Google Sheets, if you filtered your data, it would change the view for everyone who was accessing the document. Confusing and frustrating, as your content kept switching on you!

One of the advantages of using the new version of Google Sheets is Filter Views. This tool allows you to
  • filter your information by field content
  • create pre-set views that you can share with others.
Best part of all, it would not affect the view of others!

Video credit: +Google Gooru (

Using new sheets with your old data

If you have already existing data in the old version of Google Sheets, you don't have to re-create your spreadsheets in the new version (I'm running some Google Apps Scripts that only work in the old version). If all I want to do is manipulate the date for different reports, I can use the ImportRange function to bring the existing data from the old sheets into the new sheets:

=IMPORTRANGE("spreadsheet_key", "range_string")

I just enter the spreadsheet ID number from the old sheet's URL, as well as the sheet name and range of data I want to bring in.


The content from the old sheet now appears in my new sheet. As this is a form that is constantly being added to, I made sure the row number is quite large. With the document open the data may take some time to refresh if the original sheet is being used for a form. Just refresh to get the most up to date information.

How do you use ImportRange?

Video credit to +Google Gooru

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Import Data from a Web Site Into Your Spreadsheet and Filter the Results

Quite often people will paste data from a site into their spreadsheet (think of game standings, lottery numbers, etc). The importHTML function in Google Sheets can automatically get the latest data from a page and insert it into your spreadsheet, where you can treat it as if it was text you pasted in

Once your content is in your spreadsheet, you can treat it as if it was text you pasted in. You can use it in formulas, sort it, and filter it.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Built in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) in Google Docs

Ever had to retype a page of text? It's a long process that nobody really likes to do — except Google!

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) lets you convert images/PDFs with text into text documents. All you need to do is scan, upload and Google will convert your document.

So let's look at the steps:
  1. Scan your document. You can use a regular scanner, photocopier/scanner or numerous apps for your mobile device to scan your document.
  2. Upload the file. Currently, to take advantage of OCR, you must do this through your desktop browser.
  3. Ensure Convert text from PDF is selected in the settings:

  4. Start the upload

Once conversion is completed, Google will create a document for you that contains an image of each page followed by the text it converted for that page. This provides an easy way to check Google's work and make any corrections. You can see 2 samples here.

For more information see: About Optical Character Recognition in Google Drive.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Multiple Individuals Working on the Same File at the Same Time

As a document stored in Google Drive (i.e. the cloud), you never have to download or email a file — you just connect to it through your browser and start working. However, working with Google Apps is more than just cloud storage — it's about collaboration on a whole new level.

Collaborators can access the same document at the same time. You see other people's changes happen on your screen while you're making your own. In fact, you can have up to 50 people making changes on the document at the same time! For students, this means group work can be easily accomplished anywhere there's an internet connection - on a desktop or mobile device.

Faculty and administration can also take advantage of the collaboration features of Google Apps. With individuals working different hours and different locations (both on and off campus) the ability to work on a single document instead of trying to remember where the most recent version is stored, is invaluable.

What ways can you think of to take advantage of this exciting feature?

Originally published on Tips for Google Apps.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Replacing PDFs with Google Documents

For years, PDFs were the preferred vehicle for creating documents that looked exactly the way you laid them out. Different browsers were notorious for reformatting text and layouts - you never knew exactly how things were going to be displayed. But PDFs bring their own challenges - it's a separate file you have to download, sometimes you need a different piece of software to view it, and it doesn't reformat itself for mobile devices.

As an alternative, take a look at Google Docs, the word processing app that's part of Google Drive. The power of these web based apps can allow you to create some beautiful looking documents with some great advantages:
  • they're web pages so no need to download a separate file
  • text will re-warp to fit your device (images may not always fit the window size0
  • you can easily update them
  • you can collaboratively work on keeping them up to date
  • you'll never lose the original document
Once you have your document looking the way you want, just go under the Share settings and make sure all users (or only those you want) can view the page!

Discover more about the share settings!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Create simple screencasts with free tools

There are many tools available that will allow you to create wonderful wiz-bang tutorials with all sorts of animations and effects. But in the end, the most effective tutorial is one that is carefully planned and thought out.

For many people, grabbing a screenshot and record your voice with some while highlighting elements is more than enough to get your point across. Teachers often use these elements to evaluate student projects - the need for the flashy effects is not as necessary.

Two simple apps that can help you do this are Screencast-o-matic (SOM) and Skitch. Available as a downloadable file or as a java app that runs in your browser (I prefer the file), Screencast-o-matic ( is a free tool that allows you to define a capture area and records it. Simple animations are automatic that show your mouse’s movements and clicks. When you’re done, you can download a file or upload a file to SOM’s servers (free for videos under 15 minutes) or to your Youtube account.

Skitch ( does a capture of your window (full screen or a pre-defined area) and then provides tools to highlight the content. When done, you can upload the finished graphic to their servers or download a file to your computer.

To use the tools together, just follow these steps:

  1. Create your screen captures first (if you’re looking at a web page, use numerous captures to get the whole page)
  2. Launch Screencast-o-matic and select the Skitch window.
  3. Start recording
  4. While recording the audio, use the Skitch tools to highlight elements on the screen.
  5. If you need to move to the next capture, pause SOM and get yourself setup. 
  6. When done, choose how you want to save your file and share it!
Here’s a sample below:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Styles and Table of Contents in Documents

If you're using the Bold command for your headings and subheadings, now's the time to start making use of Google's styles! Not only can it help you quickly assign size/color/spacing/bolding to text, you can quickly update throughout your document with just one change!

Assign and update

As you're creating your document, instead of bolding, assign one of the heading styles (don't worry if you don't like it - you can change that). Once you've assigned a style to a piece of text, highlight the text and make the changes until you're happy with the result. Then you can update the heading (see image below) and all instances throughout the document will be updated!
You can even set the defaults for all future documents you create by selecting Save as my default styles from the Options at the bottom of the styles list.

Table of Contents from your styles

Once you've formatted all your text using styles, you can quickly create a Table of Contents. Just select Table of Contents from the Insert menu. Google will automatically insert the text from your styles and indent the subheadings like this:
Check out the sample document


Working with styles - 
Edit and format a Google document - Google Help Add titles, headings and customize the style of your document  - Google Help Table of contents in documents  - Google Help

Friday, February 7, 2014

Miking and Multi-Cameras with Mobile Devices

When people first discover Google's Hangouts on Air (the ability to broadcast to large audiences), many try to use this to broadcast a speaker in front of a group (example: instructor in front of a class). Unfortunately, the quality is often poor, the audio is faint, and the video is shot at a distance.

An easy solution available to all of us is to use mobile devices (for audio and video). Although not broadcast quality by television standards, you can do some real exciting stuff:

  • improve audio from speaker by using an iPod/iPhone as a wireless microphone (this is great if all you're showing is a slide presentation)
  • use iPod/iPhone/iPad as secondary cameras that you can switch to
Although the quality of the sample video below is not the greatest, keep in mind that users who can't make it to the presentation would be happy just being able to hear it clearly. I didn't spend anytime on getting proper lighting, so with a little effort, your results will be better.

Thanks to +Michael Daniels for doing the switching.


  • Turn your system volume completely off. Mobile versions of hangouts won't let you completely mute the sound. If necessary, you can insert earbuds (or 1/8"jacks) into all mobile devices. 
  • Record video with a proper HD camera. With a video editor, you can sync the HD footage to the higher quality audio
  • The faster/newer the hardware, the better your results are
  • When miking your speaker (earbuds work great!), they don't have to have the earbud in their ear - just pin/clip it to them
  • If you can, start the HOA from your laptop, then go to the Hangout app on your mobile device and join the conversation. 
Where do you see yourself using this?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Creating Interactive Maps with Google Forms and Google’s MapsEngine

Ever seen one of those maps with pins on them to represent places people have traveled to or come from? Well, now you can create an online version with Google’s MapsEngine. Using Google Maps as a base, you can add layers of information on top. The best part: you can easily import information from a Google Spreadsheet!

In the video below I show how you can create a map I call "Where I went on Vacation” (great for teachers who want to find out what their students did during their summer holidays). Using Google Form I collect the following information which will be displayed for each location on my map:
  • student name
  • city and country visited (Google will use this data to map the location points)
  • favorite thing they saw
  • favorite thing then did
Once I’ve collected the information, I create a map by visiting and login with my Google credentials. After I’ve imported the information, I end up with something like this:

See for yourself how easy it is in the video below:

For more information on how to create your own maps, check out this tutorial.

Tips/Things to Remember:

  • when importing, each layer can only contain 100 items
  • if information is updated in the spreadsheet, it is not updated on your map. You will need to import the information again
  • once imported, you can add images to the different locations
  • you can also share the map among users to help maintain/update the information

MapsEngine is an exciting tool for visualizing spreadsheet information. Whether you’re mapping location of lighting strikes, tracking UFO sightings or collecting Starbuck locations, this tool is a handy addition to your teaching applications.

What are some other types of maps or uses you can see for this handy tool?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Manage Your Work and Personal Google Profiles

If you're a personal Gmail user at work, you've probably run into a situation where you're visiting a Google resource and it asks for your to login using your MacEwan University credentials. To get back to your personal Gmail, you have to again logout and log back in (or sometimes you're be asked to switch accounts).

A simple solution to this is to use Profiles in Google's Chrome browser. Basically, it's like having 2 different browsers - one for your personal account and one for your work account. This will help ensure that you keep those 2 worlds separate!

Instructions for setup can be found here:


When you setup the accounts, assign different icons and themes to each account so you can easily see which window is logged into which account.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Siri Commands to Simplify Your Life

Until recently, I was using and iPhone 4 (which doesn't support Siri). Now that I have an iPhone 5s, I'm constantly chatting with Siri. However, I use Siri in the true sense of an admin assistant.

First, let's start with a basic setup: I turn off Siri's audio confirmation messages - I don't need her repeating back things to me when I'm out in public. Next, I enable "Raise to speak".  With this setup, here are my favorite commands (I bolded the words that Siri acts on:

Set timer for 30 minutes. Gives you a count down timer. Handy reminder to move clothes from the washer to the dryer.

Remind me to watch the news at 10 pm.  Sets a timed base reminder. Unlike the timer, you can create multiple timed reminders (watch the news and move the wash over).

Remind me to take the hamburger out of the freezer when I get home. Set a reminder based on a location.

Where's my wife? Gives me a location on my wife.

Call my wife. Starts dialling - no need to look up the number.

Tell my wife "You look marvellous!". If she's setup with Apple's Messages, it will send the message that way. If not, it will send an SMS.

Tell my wife where I am. Sends her my location on a map (if she's using Messages).

Email Jimmy about dinner on Thursday. Creates an email message with "Dinner on Thursday" as the subject. Siri will then ask you what you want to say in the message.

Email Jimmy about dinner on Thursday and say "Where do you want to go?" Creates an email message with "Dinner on Thursday" as the subject and "Where do you want to go" as the message.

Setup a meeting for tomorrow at 10 am about "Meeting with Insurance Guy". Creates an appointment at the time indicated with the title "Meeting with Insurance Guy".

Setup a meeting for tomorrow at 10 am about "Meeting with Insurance Guy" with John Walker. As above, but invites John as a participant (you can invite multiple people too).

What movies are playing? Get a local list.

Show me how to get home. Directions

There are lots of other commands you can use with Siri - which ones do you use on a daily basis?

And don't forget that Siri loves to dictate notes for you!