How to Share and Collaborate with iWork for iCloud in the Classroom

If you watched Apple’s latest special event, you will no doubt have heard the news about new iPads, new Macbook Pros, and even the new Mac Pro. However, amid all the hardware announcements, Apple revealed the ability to work collaboratively on iWork documents. So, how do you do that, and are there any restrictions? Here’s what I found out so far…

iwork for icloud

Q. How to Share an iWork Document

You can share documents you created on the iPad, the Mac, or online at icloud.com in very much the same way. Just look for the new share button on the toolbar, click it, and choose to share your document. You can copy the link, or email it to someone. On the iPad you can also tweet it, post it on Facebook, or send via an iMessage. When the document is shared you will see a green triangle on the corner of the file in your document manager view.

The shared link works in most browsers, and although Safari, Chrome and IE9+ are the officially supported browsers, I did get iWork to run well enough in Firefox and even on a Samsung Series 3 Chromebook. So, it should be easy enough for students to share a link to a document with a teacher/classmate and have them make the changes they need. Apple notes, however, that to share an iWork ’09, or Microsoft document, you need to open it in iWork for iCloud beta first.

share a document in iWork

Q. How to Collaborate on an iWork Document

To collaborate on a shared document, you simply click on the link that is sent to you by the document owner. After that, you are free to work at the same time on the same document together. However, real time collaboration is a hard thing to crack with an online office suite, just ask Microsoft. Nevertheless, Apple has done a pretty good job so far.

When two people are working on an iWork document inside a web browser, the changes occur very close to real time. It is not quite as slick as Google Apps, but it’s close, and the lag is minimal enough not to be a real issue. If two people happen to be working on the same paragraph at the same time, iCloud will temporarily store both versions and ask the owner which version of the document they want to keep.

However, things are a little different when you are working between a browser and say the iOS version of an iWork app. You won’t see real time changes in this scenario, at least not yet. Instead you need to wait for iCloud to sync on the mobile device before changes are pushed to and from the web. Once iCloud syncs, the changes will be viewable on an iOS device, but sometimes I found you have to exit the app and return to it later to force an iCloud sync. Hopefully this will get snappier before too long.

collaborate with iwork for icloud

Q. How to Stop Sharing an iWork Document

The time may come when you no longer want or need to have your document shared with another student or teacher. No problem. You can quickly and easily rescind sharing privileges by opening the document, and clicking on the Share icon. Then click (or tap) Stop Sharing. The link you shared previously will now no longer work, and the green sharing icon in the top right hand corner of the document will be gone. As the owner of a document, you can stop sharing from your Mac, iPad or the web.

stop sharing iwork document

Restrictions with iCloud Sharing

Apple are new to the whole cloud sharing arena, and although this product is a great start, there are definitely some things to consider before you go live with this in the classroom. These are not necessarily the only issues, but these are the biggest ones I have found so far:

  • No sharing permissions. When you share a document you can’t set the link to be “view only”. Those in possession of the document link will always be able to edit your document. Recipients do not even need to have an iCloud account. Bear that in mind if the link gets sent around social networks, and remember what you need to know in order to stop sharing  document.
  • Collaborators are anonymous. Say you shared the link with four people. You have no way of knowing exactly who is in the document with you at any one time. Google has a handle on this. Apple does not.
  • No comments or chat. The document chat window that Google has is a great way that teachers and students can instantly communicate back and forward on a given document. Even if they are not in the same document at the same time, comments can be used to leave feedback. Apple has neither of these features yet.
  • No revision history. If you are tracking changes in a document, you cannot share the link via iCloud. This is strange, because once the document has been shared with others, you will likely want to be able to check and see who did what on a given document, a la Google’s revision history. So, because iWork for iCloud does not support tracking changes, you have to turn that off on the Mac or the iPad before you can share.
  • No iPads online. If you get sent a link to a shared document and try to open it on the iPad, you will be greeted with a screen that politely informs you that you cannot be a collaborator of said document on your iPad. To edit, you need to open the link on a Mac or PC. Alternatively, you can edit a copy of the document. But if you do that, no edits will appear to the person who shared the original document with you, because it is a copy of the original document.

ipad sharing

Summary

Remember that this is version 1.0 of a Beta product. There will be improvements, there will be bugs, there will be changes, but right now if you are thinking about using it in the classroom with students, you need to be aware of its capabilities and its restrictions. iWork for iCloud has a huge amount of potential, and could one day offer some real competition to Google, but like the first draft of an essay, there are still a few things to work on.

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Using Google Forms for a Contact Page on Google Sites

When I create custom Google Sites, one of the things I often add is a Google Form on the Contact page. It’s a quick, easy, and stylish way to give visitors to your website a way to contact you without ever having to leave your site. Here’s how to set one up.

Start by creating a form in Google Drive, but keep it simple. The more fields you add, the less likely people will be to use your form. So, Name, Email and Comments is usually fine for most circumstances, but feel free to change that up as required, (see below).

Google Sites Contact Form

Next, insert the Form on a Contact page of your Google Site. You can add a paragraph explaining that it is a way that people can contact you about anything you have seen on the site, but again this is optional. So, go to Insert > Drive > Form and select the Form you created.

insert google form

Now adjust the Form settings. I usually recommend leaving the border and title boxes unchecked. That way, you get a nice clean look and it does not immediately look like you have embedded a Google From. Leave the width blank and it will automatically fit the width of your site, and play with the height until it looks right for you and displays without a scroll bar. Then save your page.

Google Form Settings

To get notified of form submissions, go to the Responses spreadsheet that is associated with your Google Form. Then click Tools > Notification rules. This allows you to set up email alerts for form submissions, so check the box that says A user submits a form, and choose how quickly you would like to be notified of that action. Most of the time I select Email – right away, but if your inbox is full and overflowing, you may prefer the daily digest. Click Save to store your preferences.

notification settings google spreadhseet

And that is really all there is to it. From this point forward, visitors to your Google Site can submit questions and comments through the embedded Google Form, and you will get notified of their submission by email. Easy, right? 🙂

Our Story for iPad: The Best Digital Storytelling App for Young Writers

There are a lot of digital storytelling apps for the iPad. Each is just a little bit different from the others, but one stands out among the others, at least for me, because of its simplicity, ease of use, and ability to tell great stories. On top of all that, it is 100% free! I’m talking, of course, about Our Story for iPad, an app created by The Open University. In my opinion, it is the best digital storytelling app for young writers. Here’s why.

Our Story for iPad

Open the app for the first time and you are greeted with three choices Get Started, Create a New Story, or Use Existing Story. Tap the green button to begin Add a title for your story, then find the photos you need in the iPad camera roll. Drag the images you want to the tray at the bottom of the screen.

Our Story for iPad Creation screen

To begin adding story details, tap on the image you want to use in the timeline at the bottom of the screen. That page of the book will open and you now have the choice over whether you want to add text (tap the keyboard), record audio (tap the microphone), or do both! The app keeps things simple. There are no font choices, page layouts or anything else, so that definitely cuts down on distractions and helps focus the user on the story. When you are done with the page you are working on, the back arrow will take you back to the previous screen to choose another page.

Our Story for iPad Creation Screen

If you want to return to the story to work on it later, press the save button (the floppy disc icon) to store your progress for another day. If the story is finished, you can view it by pressing the purple play button to see the finished product. Stories can be shared from this screen too. Tap the printer for a printed version (no audio of course) or share by email, Dropbox and iTunes as a PDF. You can also send it to other users of the Our Story app the same way so that they can play and edit your story.

Overall it is a great app. Personally I would like to see the option for students to take a picture inside the app and use that in their story, instead of relying on existing images. Alternatively, access to a simple drawing tool would be nice to have students illustrate their own picture if needed.

Otherwise, I think this is a very worthy app for any elementary or primary classroom, and can be a great way for you to create digital stories with your students. Give it a go if you have never used it before.

Create Great HTML Classroom Newsletters for FREE with Google Sites

Recently, I came across a great Google script by Romain Vialard on how to create nice looking email newsletters from a Google Sites page. It is simple to do, requires no programming skills, and could be a great way to go paperless in the classroom. So, if you are an elementary teacher that sends home newsletters every week, or you are an administrator or a coach who needs to keep communication lines open with parents, read on.

The premise is simple. You build your newsletter by creating a page on a Google Site. If you already have a classroom website that is a Google Site, all the better, but otherwise, you can create a Google Site for free with a Google Account. Then edit the page like you would with any other page, but consider some creative layouts like the three column layout with a header and footer.

Google Sites Newsletter

You can insert images and hyperlinks with ease. Embedded videos do not work when delivered as email, but you can take a screenshot of the video and link that image to the online version of the video, or add a link to say watch the video here. Of course, you can add as much text as you want, and rich text formatting will be retained.

Once your page is complete, it is time to send it to your readers. Install the free Chrome Newsletter Creator app, or visit Romain’s website, and paste the link to your page into the newsletter script. Add the email addresses of the recipients, choose whether or not you want to add a record of your email to a Google Spreadsheet, and click Send.

Initially I had some issues with adding recipients to the text box, because it did not deliver the newsletter to all the email address I added. However, if you click the spreadsheet icon to the right of the text box (see below) you can select a Google Spreadsheet that you have pasted the email addresses into, and use that as your mailing list. This worked much better for me with larger numbers of recipients.

newsletter creator

In no time at all, you can check your email to find the finished product. It looks great in Gmail and most other clients. The page title is used for the subject title of the email, and the rest is neatly packaged into a professional looking HTML newsletter that you created with little effort and no cost.

gmail classroom newsletter

Of course, you could take this one step further and use a freely available HTML newsletter template from the web, paste the code into the HTML box in  a Google Site, and use that as a template for an even nicer looking custom newsletter. I tried it, and it worked pretty well. You don’t need to know any HTML code to edit the content, but if you want to tweak any of the colors or design, it would be useful. You can see a video demo of Romain’s script below.

If, like me, you spend a lot of your time using Google Apps, you may well have forgotten most of the intricacies of how to use Publisher or Word for newsletters, but Google Sites is easy to learn. So, why not give it a try? Feel free to leave your thoughts on this tool below.