Thursday, 29 May 2014

Add a shortcut to the Google Docs Template Gallery

The Google Docs Template Gallery has thousands of templates that can be used in Docs, Sheets, Slides and Forms. You can use templates from the public gallery, or from the gallery specifically for your school or university’s domain.

However, accessing the gallery can be a bit of a pain. You first have to open a new Google Doc, Sheet, Slide or Form, and then use the File > New menu to open a template. It really is a couple of steps longer than it needs to be.

The good news is that you can streamline this process by adding a shortcut straight to the Create menu in Google Drive. This means in just two clicks you can be browsing for a template.

Follow the steps below to set up your shortcut:
1. Click the Create button in Google Drive.
2. Click Connect more apps.
3. Type template in the search box (top right) and press Enter.
4. Decide on either the ‘Drive Template Gallery’ or ‘Create from Template - Drive’ app.
Note: Both apps have the same functionality.
5. Click Connect to install the app.

Once the app is installed, simply click the Create button and the ‘From template’ shortcut to access the Template Gallery. The first time you use it, you will be required to grant access to allow the app to integrate with your Google Drive account.

Note: If your domain administrator has disabled Drive apps for your domain, you will be unable to use this tweak.

You can learn more about the Template Gallery in the Google Drive help centre.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

5 tips for making-over a Google Doc

Google Docs is a powerful tool for collaboration and a very solid word processor. However, some people think it lacks the features needed to produce professional and aesthetically-pleasing documents. Not so! In this blog post we’ll share five tips for turning your Google Doc into a visual delight.

In the spirit of this post, we’ve put the five tips in a Google Doc to demonstrate each of the features. So visit our made-over Google Doc to learn how to add a page background colour, use tables to create backgrounds to headings, create and use customised styles, insert Google drawings, and create a fancy table of contents using bookmarks.

Visit the Google Doc now!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Symphonical - fun & visual planning & task management

Symphonical is a planning and task management web app that is the digital equivalent of a giant whiteboard and lots of sticky notes. It is a great tool for both teachers, support staff and students to use to plan projects, brainstorm ideas and keep track of tasks (including homework!). Symphonical is also a collaborative tool, with the ability to share ‘walls’ (your whiteboards) with others and see everyone’s changes in real-time. There is also a very useful comments feed attached to each sticky note. Tasks can be assigned to individuals, which is great for planning group projects.

You can login to Symphonical with your Google Apps account. It also fully integrates with Google Hangouts, allowing you to collaborate on a wall during a Hangout.

There are several wall templates to help you get started. You can also completely customise the layout of your wall by adding, removing and renaming columns and rows.

How do I get it?

The free version is feature-rich and powerful. The quickest way to get started is to:
1. Visit the Symphonical website.
2. Click Sign-up > Connect with Google.

You will then be required to sign in to your Google account and/or grant permissions for Symphonical to access it. Once you have signed up, Chrome users can also install the Symphonical Chrome Web Store app to have quick access from the Chrome app launcher.

Simplify's tips

The colourful and visual layout of Symphonical makes it a very appealing way to plan manage tasks when compared to a traditional bulleted to-do list. It would be an easy and fun way to introduce students (particularly younger ones) to planning and tracking their work. For older students, it could also be structured to serve as a weekly study plan.

Where can I learn more?

Take the Symphonical tour for a preview of all this tool has to offer. You can also check out their video overview.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Logging in to your school and personal Google accounts at the same time

If your school or Uni has moved to Google Apps, and you have a personal Gmail account, you’re probably going to want to access them both simultaneously. If you just try to login to both accounts in different browser tabs, you’ll be logged out from one when you login to another. However, there are several ways to access these two accounts at once:

Google Chrome’s multiple users feature

This creates separate Chrome profiles for each Google account, and both can be run simultaneously. This is also useful for separating your personal and work-related bookmarks and history. Learn how to set it up in the Manage multiple users on Chrome Google help centre article.

Multiple sign-in feature

The multiple sign-in feature can be used to easily switch between accounts (or have both open at the same time). Simply login to one account, click your account name at the top right of the screen and click ‘Add account’. A new browser tab will open, where you can login to the second account. Learn more in the Sign in to multiple accounts at once Google help centre article.

Private browsing feature

You can also use your browsers private browsing feature to isolate the two browser sessions so the different accounts do not conflict. This is known as incognito mode in Google Chrome, Private Window in Firefox, InPrivate browsing in Internet Explorer 8+ and Private Browsing in Safari. Simply login to the second account in the private browsing window.

Different browsers

The final alternative is to use different browsers to access the different accounts. For example, you could use Google Chrome to access your school Google Apps account and Mozilla Firefox to access your personal one.

So which option is best?

It’s hard to go past Chrome’s multiple users feature. It’s easy to use and keeps everything completely separate. The ability to assign pictures to each profile also helps you identify at a glance which browser window belongs to which account. However, if you are using a Chromebook, this feature is not yet available (although it is in testing). Using Incognito mode or the multiple sign-in feature would be the next best options.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Comparing mail merge tools

Last month we published a blog post on performing a mail merge in Google Apps using Yet Another Mail Merge or xsMerge. Since then we’ve been asked to also take a look at Merge by Mail Chimp, and recommend which of the three tools is easiest to use. So, in this blog post we’ll give you a quick overview of Merge by Mail Chimp and do a comparison of the three tools.

Merge by Mail Chimp

This Add-on to Google Docs is a stripped-down version of Mail Chimp, a popular online email marketing solution. The add-on sends the content in a Google Doc to a list of up to 1000 people stored in a Google Sheet. The content in the Google Doc can be personalised for each recipient using fields from the Sheet. Once the email has been sent, you can use Merge by Mail Chimp to track who opens it.

You can learn more about Merge by Mail Chimp in their blog announcement and find the add-on here.

Which mail merge tool is best?

That depends on what you want to use it for! We’ll start with a quick run-down of the pros and cons of each tool, and then make some basic recommendations.

Tool Pros Cons
Yet Another Mail Merge

  • Can compose email in Gmail

  • Supports attachments

  • Can use Gmail contact group for source data

  • Only sends to 100 recipients per day

  • Standard set of merge fields only

  • No email tracking

  • Basic interface


  • Can compose email in Gmail

  • Supports attachments and merged attachments

  • Can also be used to merge Google Docs to PDF

  • Can use Gmail contact group for source data

  • Only sends to 100 recipients per day

  • Standard set of merge fields only

  • No email tracking

  • Basic interface

Merge by Mail Chimp

  • Sends to 1000 recipients at a time

  • Very clean interface that integrates well with Google Docs

  • Customisable merge fields

  • Guides you step by step through the merge process

  • Tracks who opens email

  • Can compose rich content using Google Docs

  • Cannot compose email in Gmail

  • Does not support attachments

  • Your organisation's address, an unsubscribe link and the Mail Chimp logo is automatically appended to the email

  • Cannot use Gmail contact group for source data

As you can see the features and functionality of the three tools vary. While Merge by Mail Chimp is undoubtedly the most professional and easy-to-use of the three, it does have some limitations that do not make it suitable for all tasks. Similarly, although Yet Another Mail Merge and xsMerge are great for basic tasks, they may not be powerful enough to meet more advanced requirements. Here’s our suggestions of what to use when:

You want to send a newsletter, invitation or flyer to a pre-established mailing list
Use Merge by Mail Chimp. You can make a nicely formatted Google Doc as the basis of the email, and track who opens it.

You want to send a simple personalised email to a group of people (for example, to confirm an upcoming event)
Use Yet Another Mail Merge or xsMerge. You would not want to confuse them with an unsubscribe link (from Merge by Mail Chimp) and the more advanced formatting of Google Docs is not required.

You want to send a personalised email and a personalised attachment to a group of people (for example, a congratulatory email and certificate)
Use xsMerge. It can personalise both the email and the attachment from the same data source.

So while none of these tools will do everything you may need, each has strengths that you can use to pick the best one for your task. The good news is, each is easy enough to master so you can move between them as required.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

MindMup: 100% free mindmapping tool

Mindmapping helps students and teachers brainstorm ideas, plan projects and revise material. MindMup is a great web app for creating mind maps quickly and easily. It is 100% free, and integrates directly with Google Drive. MindMup lives up to its claim of being ‘zero-friction’. Keyboard shortcuts make creating a map very quick. Getting started is as easy as pressing the space bar or double-clicking to start typing. You can add images and attachments to a map, and also work collaboratively with others using the Google Drive integration. Collaborative maps (enabled via an extension) also auto-save in Google Drive-style. Once you have created a map, it can be exported to a variety of formats or embedded in a website or blog.

How do I get it?

The best way to get started with MindMup is to connect it to Google Drive, following the steps below.

1. Open your Google Drive.
2. Click Create > Connect more apps (right at the bottom)
3. Search for MindMup (top right corner)
4. Click Connect and then OK to add.
5. To create a new mind map, simply open Google Drive and click Create > Mind Map.

Simplify’s tips

If for any reason you cannot connect MindMup to Google Drive as described above, you can also install it from the Chrome Web Store or access it directly via (in any browser). If you do use either of these methods, you will need to change the save location of each mind map to Google Drive.

Where can I learn more?

Visit MindMup’s documentation site for help getting started and using the advanced features.

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