Google Docs Add-Ons

We’ve touted the benefits of using Google Drive in the past. This time, we’re going to talk about a new(ish) dimension of capabilities within Google Docs (and Google Sheets, though we’re not getting into that today), that empowers users to integrate functionality from a multitude of different services directly, contextually, within Google Docs.

Google introduced add-ons to Google Docs and Sheets about a year ago, but the ecosystem of add-ons was pretty immature back then. Now, with a year gone by for services to develop add-ons, the choices are richer and more useful.

First, in order to get/manage/activate/deactivate add-ons, you should open up a Google Doc. Look at the toolbar across the top of your sheet–there should be a tab that says “Add-ons.” Click it, and then click “Get add-ons.” There you go. Now it is important to remember that add-ons won’t automatically activate after you’ve added their functionality to your doc. You have to activate them. Click “Manage add-ons” to do so.

Now for a quick rundown of the add-ons that are out there which may be useful to you!


uberconferenceUberconference allows users to start and administer teleconferences around documents. It’s free for up to 10 callers, and it’s as simple as activating it in a shared doc and sending the number and pin password to your target participants. The sidebar that opens in your doc will allow you to moderate/manage some aspects of the conference, such as muting certain callers.

I’ve used it in the past for tutoring students on the papers that they’ve written in Google Docs. It’s incredibly useful to unite synchronous, auditory communication over the phone with synchronous, visual, collaborative interaction via the Google Doc.

gGraph Handwriting, Mathematic Notation, Graphing and Statistics


pgraph handwriting

gGraph offers a great deal of functionality for all manner of notation, even voice-to-symbol mathematical notation, and will generate then insert graphs for you derived from your equations. Additionally, it will generate and insert little images made from handwritten notes you can also make into the sidebar. If you’re writing a paper that has math in it, then it can be of great use.



One of the first useful add-ons available for Google Docs was from EasyBib, and it remains extremely valuable still. The ability to not leave Google Docs while you’re verifying/generating citations is really amazing. On the student end of the assessment process, it allows the writers of large papers to keep writing with minimal break workflow when they need to enter a new source. For the purposes of assessment, it makes checking that sources are correctly cited that much easier.


Translate add-onTranslate, like EasyBib, allows for contextual, quick service that makes it possible to keep writing without breaking your creative flow. It functions very simply. Highlight text, choose a language you wish to translate the words to, and then click translate. The words are generated quickly and are easy to copy and paste wherever they’re needed.


code prettyFinally, there’s Codepretty. This isn’t useful to everyone, likely, but for those of us who handle code a lot, the color formatting of coding programs makes the job of navigating a sea of code much easier. While not meant to replace those programs, it is still nice to see the collaborative-cloud functionality of Google Docs given the ability to automatically color format the code that’s entered into it. For odd jobs, or touching up, or sharing a string of code between coders on the fly, this is pretty cool stuff.

Probably the best way to learn how add-ons can serve you is to get in there and play around yourself, but hopefully the add-ons covered above can get you started with something you’ll find useful!


Self and Peer Assessment

checklist on a clipboardIn many instances, it is beneficial to students to do peer evaluations – that makes them look at submissions more critically and learn in the process, plus using a predetermined rubric helps identify the high points and the important performance criteria for an assignment. The Self and Peer Assessment feature in Blackboard allows students to submit an assignment to a dropbox, then to be randomly assigned several of them for review (anonymous option available) and offer feedback, and even include a self-evaluation, if desired.

In the current courses, we often have a discussion forum set up for similar purposes, where one has to submit an assignment – usually as attachment (and sometimes viewing of the discussion forum is restricted so that students can only access the other threads after creating their own). Then one will pick which papers they will read and provide feedback based on either suggested criteria or their own perception of a quality paper. Both papers and feedback are available to all students (or only those who have submitted in the case of “post first” forums). Submissions can be reviewed as soon as they become available, and an unequal number of feedback posts may result. Forum submissions are not restricted by date (a due date may be set up though).

With the more formal and structured Self and Peer Assessment, there is a submissions due date – no one can start reviewing other students’ papers until that date. All submissions become available at once. After the first due date passes, students gain access to 2-3 papers – or however many papers you specify – of the other students. Criteria have also been set up so students may choose to provide a grade for each criteria based on their judgment but using your guidelines. A model answer may be included in certain cases. Students can also provide a self-assessment which we currently don’t require in the forum setup.

An Overview:

Being anonymous allows for a more objective feedback. It’s easier to track students’ contributions, and in general this tool is more structured, and this structure may be preferred to the forum one. Please watch the videos below to learn more and make a better informed decision.

Note: Bb treats any student’s submission slot as a submission, so if a student doesn’t submit anything, the slot gets distributed as if there were a submission (see what that looks like in the From the Student Perspective Video).

From the Instructor Perspective:
Part I
Part II
From the Student Perspective:

Blackboard Directions for setting up a self and peer assessment

CAST: About Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning

CAST: About Universal Design for Learning.

We at MSW are very ambitious about making sure that our course design offers learning opportunities to diverse students, not the proverbial “middle”, or only fully-abled English as-a-native-language speaking students. By including additional content formats (transcripts for videos and audio, alternate text for images for example), we open opportunities for students who may either need assistance with the language itself, can’t hear very well or simply don’t have the time to listen to the spoken track and prefer reading a transcript and making notes in the margins, which increases their productivity and adds meaning to their interaction with the material. Any digital text can also be searched quickly for particular terms, which again improves efficiency.

In addition to making our content accessible, if we follow UDL, we will have opportunities for students to engage with the content in different ways – and possibly engage with different content as well. We should also offer a variety of presentation formats – which forces us to think very thoroughly about the goals and outcomes of a course. How can a student demonstrate proficiency and her accomplishments in her own way? Do we leave enough room for the student to be creative or do we tend to be quite prescriptive – and we often base our expectations for student projects on our own experiences. In doing so, do we limit ourselves and our students to a narrow scope of expression and experiences? Will students be better professionals if they simply follow our strict bullets or design their own in accordance with a broad rubric focusing on important skills? Will students be more engaged if they are offered options? Will they have more ownership of their own learning if they get to make choices?