Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Working in the Cloud, Part 2: Google Drive

In my last post, I covered my usage of Dropbox. In this post, I am going to pick up with my usage of Google Drive.

When I only had home and office desktops and a laptop, I was satisfied with Dropbox alone. Two years ago, I got an iPad, and began to explore more apps, including Evernote and Google Drive. Given that I was already a Dropbox user, I have added the other services to fulfill particular needs. If I had come to the others first, my usage of them would probably be different. In this post, I will discuss Google Drive.

Whereas Dropbox is really about file storage, Google Drive is a more expansive system. You can use Google Drive to store files of all types. However, files in Google Drive work especially well with Google’s Documents, Sheets, Forms, Presentations, and Drawings. For me, Google Drive serves to enable collaboration in ways that are difficult with Dropbox. In particular, if I have a document that I am going to co-author, and I want my co-author to be able to view the document with me simultaneously, then I will use Google docs. I also like the feature that allows me to select what people can do with an item I share, where the options are: can view/can comment/can edit. So when I am running a workshop, for instance, my co-facilitators may have editing capability, while participants get viewing capability. And, unlike Dropbox, only files that originate with me count against my file storage limit.

My favorite feature of Google Drive is Google Forms. Google Forms are great for surveys or quizzes. There are several different question formats that you can set up for a question, including multiple choice and short answer. The responses to the form are collected in a Google Sheet. And, with the use of Flubaroo, an add-on to Sheets, I can auto-score a quiz as well, and have the scores emailed to the students.

There are a couple of nice aspects of storage in Google Drive. One is that Google’s native formats (Documents, Sheets, Forms, Presentations, and Drawings) do not count against your storage limit. Another is that items scanned in to Drive get Optical Character Recognition (OCR) applied to them, so that if, for instance, I scan a hard copy of a typed document, I am saved from re-typing it, because OCR converts the scanned content into text.

Google Drive has its own set of limitations. One of the limitations across Google’s native Docs and Forms is that it is difficult to typeset mathematics. (I have a partial work-around, but I’ll save that for another day.) Another issue is that Documents and Sheets are editable on the iPad, but at last check, Drawings and Forms are not. Also, where Dropbox files are stored locally on a laptop or desktop, so that you can work offline, and particular files can be selected for local storage on your tablet, Google Drive files are not generally available offline. I have had the experience of trying to access a file when I have a slow internet connection, and I am stuck unable to access it. (If you use Chrome or Chrome OS, you can set up offline access: https://support.google.com/drive/answer/2375012?hl=en.)

Google Drive Summary:

+Native editor for proprietary file types.
+Native Document and Sheet editors work on the iPad.
+Forms are great for surveys and quizzes. 
+Form results go in a spreadsheet that can be auto-scored with Flubaroo.
+Files in native Google formats do not count against the storage limit.
+Only my own files count against my storage limit, and not those files shared with me but owned by others.
+OCR lets me convert hard copies into electronic text.

-Mathematics is difficult to typeset in Google’s native formats.
-Google Forms, Presentations, and Drawings cannot be edited on an iPad.
-Google files are not available offline except via Chrome or Chrome OS.

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