Ever heard of a little company called “Google”? Of course you have. You probably use at least four of their products on a daily basis, probably more. They’re best known for their search engine, which has held its dominant position in the market for so long they became a verb. Of course, YouTube is probably their next most recognisable website. If we were to produce a study, I would be willing to bet my tuition fee money on it being the website most responsible for student procrastination. It’s a fool’s bet, since any cursory walk around the library will give you all the evidence you need.
However, while Google can be your biggest obstacle in your quest to get a decent education, it can also be your greatest friend. Google search is possibly the most powerful research engine in the world (our lovely StarPlus coming a close second) but you didn’t click on this to read about what you already knew.
What you might be less aware of, is that your university account is also a Google account, giving you easy and full access to the Google Suite. These are apps most students will have used before or at least know of. But nobody ever uses them to their full potential. Google for Business, as it’s called, is a set of incredibly polished apps designed to work seamlessly together. If used efficiently and properly, Google goes from the friend who buys you another pint to the one who drives you home.
So, let’s get started!
I’ve only really started using Google Calendar properly this year, when all of a sudden my schedule got a lot more dense. Honestly, I don’t quite know where I’d be without it. Its easily accessed through the ‘My Services’ menu on MUSE, and gives you an extremely powerful timetabling system. Of course, the calendar can also be synced to your phone by downloading the Google Calendar app and logging in with your MUSE credentials. The iPhone calendar app can sync with Google Calendar, but the stock Google app is much more efficient.
Creating an event is easy. Events can be colour coded, set to repeat regularly or irregularly; as well as a whole host of other features. Events can be programmed to give you half hour reminders by default, or other notifications. For example, an upcoming exam can be set to notify you in a month, then two weeks, then one, etc. When all of his information is available with a quick glance of your phone, timetabling becomes easy. Multiple calendars can be set up for different categories of event. For example, if you’re working a part time job, like me, you might want to use a different account than you university one to calendar these events. The visibility of a calendar can be turned on and off easily, giving you an easy look at how much time is being spent where.
This can even by synced with Gmail. Google’s smart algorithms can pick out dates and times of events from the content of an email, meaning you can add society or academic events directly to your calendar. You can explicitly create events and share them through gmail as well! So there’s no more excuses for missing the study group!
This is an essential tool for any student with a poor memory like me, and a useful one even for those who are abnormally organised. I heavily recommend using this tool as much as you can!
Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides
Almost everybody uses Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint for their office or academic needs. This is done with good reason, as they’re not only free for students at Sheffield through the CiCS website, they’re also extremely powerful tools. But most people never use these apps to do the really complicated stuff, which means that for many people, they use Word just because they know they’re comfortable with it. I’m going to suggest that for the casual user who wants simple features with a few convenient extras, Google’s own software might be the better choice.
When opening a new Google Docs file, it looks very familiar. All the buttons are in the same place they would be on Microsoft Word, if a little bit cut down. What makes Google Docs apart are a few important features?
- Google Docs saves with every change, so you’ll never lose your work. Seriously, if a bolt of lightning hits the computer when you’re writing your essay, you’ll lose at most a letter. It is constantly saving your process, meaning you can immediately get back to what you’re doing.
- It syncs through Google Drive, meaning its accessible through any computer. All you have to do is log in with MUSE and navigate to the file and you can get back to work. None of this UniDrive rubbish and managing various different versions of the same document. Just load it up and off you go.
- You can easily share your document, and edit it with others at the same time. This is invaluable for sharing notes or working on a group project. Entire documents can be shared with others using their university email or just a link. Google’s edit history shows exactly who edited what, and participants can leave comments for others to respond to. Working on a group PowerPoint needn’t be done face to face if it’s just not practical. Combine this with Google Hangouts, Google’s chat and voice app, and group work is extremely easy.
They might be a little bit more simple, but these features can make your life quite a lot easier if you weren’t using those features anyway. Plus, any Google Docs file can be saved as a Microsoft Word file if you find yourself wanting one of those more complicated features. I’ve barely scratched the surface of this amazing tool, but those are the features I find most notable.
You might not have heard of this one, as it’s a little bit more niche than the others. Google Keep is a notetaking app meant to rival that of apps like Evernote. Simple, short notes such as shopping lists, to-do lists, reminders, recipes etc. can be taken, sorted, synced and shared all through this one little app. It has multi-media capability, meaning images can be saved just as easily as text, as well as being integrated through the entire google suite. This means you can share a note via Gmail, or embed a link to your Google Doc into your to-do list!
I’ve been hit and miss with this app. It is quite powerful, yet at the same time it really depends on how much you and others use it. Due to the fact that few people actually use it, when sharing a Keep note you might find people respond with confusion rather than thanks. However, if you’re the type to keep digitised notes, to-do lists and more, you might find it useful to have an app available everywhere to keep you more organised!
If you have a university account, you have an extremely large amount of cloud storage space available to you through Google Drive. This is the ultimate way to keep your university documents backed up, safe and secure. Say goodbye to the old USB stick, as Google Drive enables you to keep everything online!
Google Docs, Gmail and Keep are all fantastically integrated with Drive. All of your Google Docs files will be saved on the drive, so available anywhere. You can load attachments straight from your drive account into an email.
All of this is fairly old hat, Drive is quite well known by this point. However, what you might know less about is Google’s Team Drives. The Team Drives are perfect for committees sharing resources, group work or even whole lecture groups.
Instead of hosting documents everywhere, messing around constantly with access and editing permissions, you can simply create a group drive and invite everybody to it. From there everybody can create and edit documents within the drive, with a constantly updating record of who has edited what and when. The true power of the Google Suite is revealed here. Everybody can have a shared Google Calendar, Drive and Document space to voice concerns, discuss and write.
Even if the worst happens, and somebody deletes everything out of spite or stupidity, Google Drive can restore these deleted items or previous versions within 30 days!
So that’s the Google Suite, a stupidly powerful set of applications we all have access to and should understand. I think they are criminally underused by the majority of students, either because they don’t know how or don’t want to put in the effort to get used to something new! But these are used in hundreds of businesses to great effect. Here at 301 we use Google Calendar and Gmail extensively, as well as Google Drive. The same can be said of the rest of the academic and administrative staff at the University of Sheffield.
I hope this has persuaded you to experiment with them too! The more people who use them on a regular basis, the easier they will be to use with peers. Google might have dropped their pledge to “not be evil”, but they make some very high quality apps!