What on earth are Google Chrome Extensions, Google Docs Add-ons and Chrome Apps?
You may have heard about Chrome extensions, Chrome Apps and Google Docs add-ons - you may already have some installed and running. This post will explore what they are, give some recommendations to try and discuss the digital citizenship angle on their use with students.
What is a Chrome Extension
Chrome extensions are small software programs that customise your experience of using Google Chrome on your laptop. They enable you to tailor Chrome’s functionality and behaviour to your needs or preferences. If the needs of everybody were added to Google Chrome it would be an even slower and more bloated piece of software. Once installed (you do not need to be an admin to do this) the extensions usually add an icon to the right of the omnibox in Chrome with the ability to do a specific thing. If you are signed into Google Chrome on a device the extensions will be automatically synced.
The Chrome extensions you currently have installed can be found by typing chrome://extensions into the Google Chrome omnibox or by clicking on the three dots in top right hand corner of Chrome > More Tools > Extensions.
Chrome extensions can be found in the Chrome Web Store. Here you can browse all the different extensions available and quickly add them to Chrome. Care needs to be taken with the source of some extensions - but more about that later. I find that a lot of extensions are just shortcuts to webpages. Few add real additional functionality - but those that do and do it well are super useful!
Some recommended Chrome Extensions
Earth View from Google Earth - Produced by Google - Each time you open a new Chrome tab you are greeted by a a beautiful Satellite image from Google Earth.
Google Mail Checker - Produced by Google - Adds an icon beside your Chrome omnibox and displays the number of unread messages in your inbox. This could be rather disturbing for some of you! You can also click the icon to open your inbox.
Office Editing for Docs, Sheets & Slides - Produced by Google - Once the extension is installed, Office files that you drag into Chrome, open in Gmail, Google Drive and more will be opened in Docs, Sheets and Slides for viewing and editing.
What is the difference between Chrome Extensions and Chrome Apps?
The difference between extensions and Apps is not clear and it seems to me that Apps have not become what Google wanted them to be as there is no real difference between what a Chrome App and a feature rich website can do. Google also seems to be withdrawing from ‘Apps’ and mentions of them are becoming less prominent.
Apps are web-based versions of software applications we would typically install on a computer. Chrome Apps don’t need to be installed on the hard drive because they live completely in the cloud; Chrome Apps are simply launchers for the web-based software.
The Chrome Apps you currently have installed can be found by typing chrome://apps
Talking to students about Chrome Extensions
The ability to share extensions is built right into the Chrome Web Store. In a few clicks you can have all your students up and running with the extension that they need for class. Each Extension in the Store has the internationally accepted sharing icon (three dots connected with two lines). Click on the icon and share by email to get the direct link to the Extensions page on the Web store.
It is worth discussing Chrome extensions with your students. Extensions are easy to install and not all come from reputable sources. Some of the less reputable ones may disguise themselves as a game or similar but add adverts to webpages that do not have them, record web browsing activities or even include keystroke recorders. If Google Chrome is not behaving as you or a student believe it should it is always worth looking at which extensions have been installed. I recommend deleting any extension that is not currently in use. I only tend to use extensions produced by Google or other well known developers.
What is a Add-on?
Add-ons run inside Google Sheets, Docs, Slides, and Forms. Add-ons are third party plugins which add a focused tool beyond what the Google tools offer. The tool I use to mail merge individualized emails to staff for PED day session choices etc was done using an Add-on to Google Sheets.
Add-ons can be found by clicking on ‘Add-ons’ in the top menu bar inside Google Sheets, Docs, Slides, and Forms.
Some recommended Add-ons
For Google Docs - MindMeister - Produced by MindMeister - With the click of a button, you can turn any bullet-point list into a visual mind map, which is then inserted directly into your Google doc. The mind map will include all of the information covered within the list, with the first point becoming the root topic of the mind map and the rest of the first-level bullet points becoming topics, branching off from the centre. Any second-level points are then turned into sub-topics, branching off from their respective parent topics, and so on.
For Google Docs - Lucidchart Diagrams - Produced by LucidChart - Easily insert diagrams you have created in LucidChart into your Google Doc. If you update the diagram in LucidChart you can choose to then update the diagram in Google Docs.
For Google Sheets - Yet Another Mail Merge - Produced by Romain Vialard - Send 50 mail merged emails a day for free ($24 / year for the unlimited version). Information from a spreadsheet can be added to email to individualise the output.
For Google Forms - Form Scheduler - Produced by Digital Thoughts - Free features include the ability to stop accepting responses after a maximum number and to stop accepting responses at specific date.