Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Gmail: A One Stop Shop for Educators


Over the years, Gmail has evolved into quite a productivity suite. It is a one-stop shop for many tasks educators do daily. It is a hub for communication, a platform for collaboration, and a tool for organization. Without having to leave the Gmail tab, you can access not just your emails, but your Chat conversations, Google Chat Rooms, schedule and join Google Meet video calls, see your Google Calendar, access Google Keep notes, use Google Tasks and view your Google Contacts information. 

Below, on the left side of Gmail, you have access to your Email, Google Chat, Google Chat Rooms, and Google Meet video calls. 

Chat, in my experience, is often an underutilized tool. In a nutshell, it's free text messaging within Gmail. You may be thinking that why would I need this when I can text on my phone. Within your school's domain, you can send a Chat message to anyone in your organization by simply knowing their name. There is no need to have everyone's phone number or switch back and forth between your computer and phone. 

Each day, we get many emails. Many of these emails are quick, informal messages asking a quick question that are better off as a text message. Instead of cluttering your inbox with informal text messages, let those messages be handled by Chat. This will free up your Gmail inbox for formal communication from colleagues and admin. Using chat for informal communication will make it less likely that you will miss an important email. 

As you use Chat more, below your Gmail Inbox and Labels, you'll see a list of your most recent Chat conversations, the most recent being at the top. When you click on one, it will pop up at the bottom of your screen for you to type back and forth. 

Google Chat Rooms is a relatively new feature added to Gmail. Click here to read a more in-depth blog post about Chat Rooms. The integration of Rooms makes Gmail a powerful collaboration tool. Rooms is more than an offshoot of Chat. Collaborators invited to a Room, from within Gmail, can participate in threaded discussions, share files instantly (no having to go to Drive and share) and assign tasks to project team members.

Below is the threaded conversation feature of Rooms. You know you are seeing the threaded conversation because, at the top, you will see Chat underlined. As of now, there is no ability to title each thread. Until then, the first post of a thread should be the title. In the example below, the thread is titled "Kaplinsky Mini Courses".

If you were to continue scrolling in the Room from the example above, below, you would come across the next thread, titled "Spring CUE 2021".

When files such as Google Docs are shared within a thread, all members of the Room can access the Doc right within Gmail. If edit access is shared, it can be edited here too. You can see a Google Docs toolbar across the top. This can eliminate the need to open the Doc in another Chrome tab.

In each Room, you can see a tab for Files. Click it and you will see a list of each file posted in the various threads within the Room. It shows you who posted it and gives you options for adding it to Drive or organizing within Drive. 

Each Room also has a Tasks tab. This allows you to assign tasks to members of the Room. When assigned, these Tasks will appear in Google Tasks on that person's side 

Google Meet is another tool that is fully accessible within Gmail. No need to go to the Meet website or Google Calendar to start a video call. Simply click New meeting to start one from scratch or click My meetings to see meetings you've scheduled or been invited to.

If you click New meeting, what you see below will appear. This gives you options to invite guests and join the meeting now.

If you click My meetings, in Gmail, you'll see a list of your scheduled meetings or meetings in which you've been invited. Click on a Meeting to see details on the right. 

In Gmail, the side panel, seen on the right side of the screen, gives you quick access to Google Calendar, Google Keep, Google Tasks and Google Contacts. In addition, click the plus button at the bottom to access a "store" for third party apps that will appear in the side panel for easy access.

Google Calendar in the side panel gives you an at-a-glance view of Calendar without opening it in a separate tab. Clicking in here can give you options to start an event or edit events.

Google Keep in the side panel is great for productivity. Notes you've taken and saved can easily be inserted into emails and Chat conversations. I use this daily when adding details to this blog before sending to my mailing list.

Google Tasks in the side panel is probably my favorite feature. At a glance, I can see my repeating tasks and "to-do's". It's a great feeling to see this list shrink throughout the day. It shows productivity. I can easily add action item emails to Tasks so I don't forget to do them throughout the day. 

The newest feature of the side panel is Google Contacts. If you click on an email, then click the Contacts button in the side panel, it will show detailed information about the sender and others included in the email. This makes it easy to save and update contact information.

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