Collaborative Research using Google Drive

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The importance of peer collaboration keeps rising, for students, business, and research. Fortunately, the tools for collaboration keep improving, too.

One great tool, available to all AU community members through Google Apps for Education, is Google Drive. If you think you know Google Drive, but haven’t used it for a few months or a year, you should check it out again – Google is continually adding features to Drive products.

google drive

Google Drive is a cloud-based software and storage system that allows users to create, upload, and save documents online in multiple formats. That means you can either use it just as a storage drive, by uploading your Word documents, pictures, or many other formats, or you can create new documents using several native software formats. These include Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Forms, and others. Users at American University can access Google Drive through their email account. All you need to do to collaborate using the Drive is to share your document or folder with other users and set their level of permission. If all shared users can edit, you can all work on your research at once, with no need to email multiple copies back and forth.

Here are a few of the newer features that unique to online software systems like Google Drive, rendering them great collaboration tools:

1. Research in Documents

One of the previous shortcomings of Google Docs/Drive was that it did not allow for footnotes or connection with citation programs, like EndNote. Now, using the “Research” tool located under the “Tools” menu in a Document, Google Drive allows users to search for their sources directly from the web, or from Google Scholar, and then insert that source directly as a citation. You can even select the citation format, including APA, MLA, or Chicago. It’s really one of the easiest ways to cite sources around. Plus, it allows for you to conduct and save online research directly in the document, which means that multiple users can work together in both the researching and writing stages.

research tool

2. Comments in Documents

Writing is a part of the research process, and one that’s especially hard to perform collaboratively. Microsoft Word has some useful collaborative tools such as Track Changes and Comments, but usually only one user at a time can work on the document and you have to keep track of multiple versions. In Google Documents, multiple users can make edits at the same time, and inserting comments can be a great way to communicate about the edits. If the issue in the comment has been dealt with by everyone, then the comment can be marked as “Resolved.”


3. Creating Lists in Google Spreadsheets

This is a cool feature that really takes advantage of the fact that the software is online. If you type in two related items in adjacent cells in the Spreadsheet, highlight both cells, Click on the small box in the corner of the highlighted cells, and then press CTRL while dragging the box down to later cells, Google spreadsheets will pull information from the internet to auto-fill a list based on the items you’ve entered. Excel can do this with certain items, like numeric patterns or common entries like days of the week. But Google will pull lists from Wikipedia or the CIA World Factbook, too. (Maybe it’s not as much a collaboration tool as it’s just pretty cool.)

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4. Google Forms

This software allows you to create custom surveys, set your fellow researchers as editors, and then email the link to your survey respondents. Once you get all of your results in, you can convert the data to spreadsheet format or export them to your preferred data analysis software. The respondents you send the survey to don’t have to be Google users, and you and your research partners get to share and save all of the results in Google Drive. The tool is meant more as a planning tool, like Doodle, but it can be used for data collection, like Survey Monkey – the advantage over these programs is that you don’t have to create and keep track of separate accounts.



That’s all we’ll cover in this post, but please, share with us what your favorite features of Google Drive are in a comment, or let us know about other online tools for collaboration!


How to make many placemarks at the same time on Google Earth

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If you are familiar with Google Earth, you know that making placemarks and editing bubbles can actually be fun once you get the hang of creating them. However, when you have 50+ placemarks to create in your layer, you don’t want to spend your entire evening making little pinpoints everywhere, adding information, photos, videos…you have better things to do, like play the flight simulator.

We at the lab bring you good news: the awesome guys at Google actually created a spreadsheet where you can put all the data about your layer in one place and upload it to Google Earth. This is done with the Google Earth Spreadsheet Mapper.

It basically works like this: Download the Spreadsheet Mapper from Google Earth and open it in Google Docs. You’ll see that Google has cells for your to fill out the basic information about your layer, such as the name of the project and URL if you have one, and also instructions on how to connect your spreadsheet to Google Earth [example below]. In the tabs at the bottom of the screen, you’ll find the space where you input your coordinates and the additional data that goes in each placemark bubble. The template tabs help you customize the bubble template you choose for your placemarks.

Just plug in your information in the designated cells

Things to remember before you begin:

  • You’ll need coordinates in decimal form, not in degrees-minutes-seconds. You can find a converter online.
  • First check out the six bubble templates that Google Earth provides to get an idea of what you want your bubble to look like. Then, choose one of the templates for your layer.
  • Have all your images uploaded to a server. You’ll need the URL to add pictures to your bubble.

If you’re still confused, or need more information, the Spreadsheet Mapper website provides video tutorials and more detailed instructions on how to add your layer information.

Qualitative Challenge: Is GIS a qualitative research tool?


Earlier this week three of our staff presented NVivo, Google Earth and ArcGIS to a qualitative research methods class in SIS. Our goal was to simply introduce a few software programs that can be helpful for researchers using qualitative methods such as content analysis, indepth interviews, focus groups or ethnography. It was easy to see how NVivo was appropriate -it is the industry standard for computer-assisted qualitative analysis. But what about Google Earth and ArcGIS which are both used for geo-spatial research?

Our staff created possible research problems that would require Google Earth or ArcGIS. One example included comparing locations of poverty and locations of conflict in a particular country. Other ideas were to map ethnicity and war or education levels and war. (Can you tell the students were from International Peace and Conflict Resolution?) In
reality, many of the organizations that utilize the program for projects of feasibility, monitoring, and implementation.

We ended our presentation with this question for the class: Do you think GIS classifies as a qualitative research method tool?

Please give us your feedback  [If you don’t see the comment box below, click on the title of the post].

Creating a Chart in Google Docs

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Step away from Excel for a few minutes and marvel at the chart building possibilities available on Google Docs.

If you have a Google account (and if you’re an AU student, of course you do), log into your Google account and get to Google Docs. You know that you can upload text files and spreadsheets there. Click on one of the spreadsheets you have (and if you don’t have one uploaded, you can take a spreadsheet you’ve been working on in Excel and upload it to Google Docs).  Up at the top is a little button that looks like a red and blue bar graph. That is where the magic happens.

Click on the “Chart button” and begin building your chart. You can choose from line, bar, pie, trends, map, and other graph options.

On your spreadsheet, select the data you want to include in your chart. Or, you can do that under the “Start” tab once you’ve opened the Chart box.  Google Docs will recommend a chart for your first, but if you decide that is not what you want, you can move on to the “Charts” tab and select another option.  (Google Docs will even let you know if a certain chart is not possible with the data you provided). You’ll be able to preview the chart once you’ve made a selection. Create the title and other labels for your chart in the the “Customize” tab.

When you’re happy with the chart you built, click on “Insert” and it will appear on top of your spreadsheet.

It’s that easy!

For more instructions, read it from Google themselves.

How to build fancier bubbles in Google Earth

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In Google Earth, you figured out how to create place marks and create descriptions to go in the little bubble that appears after you hover over them.  But for some reason, the bubbles don’t look fancy enough to you. How can you add a photo to the bubble or change the background color? What if you want to have scrolling text on the side? How did those people in the Google Earth gallery make their bubbles so darn awesome?

Google has the answer for that (are you surprised?). If you want to make your bubble look a bit more professional, you can download one of the templates provided by the Google Earth team at Google.

Warning: There is a wee bit of coding involved. If you have prior knowledge to HTML, using the template will be easy, because the templates are basically HTML code that you embed in the description section of your bubble. (If you don’t have any HTML knowledge and are determined to learn this to create the best Google Earth bubble ever, please do not hesitate to contact the lab for assistance!)

Google provided an easy-to-follow video to accompany the templates. After you paste the template into your bubble, you’ll just need to edit the code the way you want it.


Again, if you have an interest in creating these bubbles and need help doing, please let a consultant know and we’ll help make your Google Earth bubbles unique for your data visualization!

Use Google Fusion Tables to Visualize Data

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Many of us already know the perks of having a Google account: checking email, sharing documents, and chatting with friends, of course! In addition to the many wonders that a Google account can give you access to, you can also use that handy account to use Google Fusion Tables, a neat way to visualize data.

Google Fusion Tables is a modern data management and publishing web application that makes it easy to visualize and publish data tables online. You can import your own data and visualize it instantly on tables, maps, graphs, and more.  That’s right. You can take that Excel data sheet you’ve been working on all summer and actually SHOW others what all those facts and figures mean for your research. You can also:

  • Share tables with other publicly or view other public tables
  • Merge your own data or merge other people’s data
  • Other data visualization tools available: line graph, bar graph, pie, scatter, motion, timeline, and storyline

Use Google Fusion Tables to visualize data in your table, on a map, or on an intensity map. What’s an intensity map, you ask? Here’s an example below:

Using Google Fusion Tables to visualize civil liberty scores

Google uses geo-coding to take data for each country in the world and uses different colors and shades to represent intensities of data. The darker shades represent lower scores of civil liberties, in this case.

To get started, you will need to have a Google account. On Google’s Homepage (, Select More > Even More > Fusion Tables.  If we haven’t convinced you yet, Google provides additional tutorials on how to best utilize the Fusion Tables.

Consider using Google Fusion Tables for your research this semester! If you have additional questions on how to use it, just drop by the lab and ask a consultant.

Google Earth Pro now available in Hurst lab

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pinpoint Google Earth Pro

The Hurst lab gained a new addition to the family of supported software! Google Earth Pro, an upgraded version of the traditional Google Earth, is now available as a specialty program on one of our machines. Just look for the monitor labeled Google Earth Pro – that will be the only computer with the software installed.

The Pro version includes all of the same functions that regular Google Earth has, such as the satellite imagery database, the ability to explore any point on the planet or space, and the ability to search for buildings, streets, and parks. You will also find the tools to rotate and tilt the view in 3D or draw on your map on both versions.

It is different from Google Earth in four main ways:

1. High-resolution capability:
Google Earth Pro uses the same imagery database as the free version, so there are no changes to the locations you see in Google Earth Pro. However, with Google Earth Pro, you can print these locations at a higher resolution. You can save images in 1400, 2400, and 4800 pixels.

2. Includes GIS data input tools:
Import point, lines and path, and polygon vector data.

3. Area measurement:
In addition to measuring with a line or a path, you can measure with a circle radius or polygon. This is handy for finding the area of nontraditional shapes and sizes.

4. Movie maker:
You can use the Movie Maker feature of Google Earth to record 3D viewer imagery and save the recording as a movie file. You can either set the recorder to record your interactions with the 3D viewer in real-time, or you can set up a tour and record the entire tour without interruption.

Google Earth Pro is generally used for commercial use by NGOs and businesses, and now it is available to the students and faculty at AU. Grab the world by the click of a mouse and check out Google Earth in our lab. Regular Google Earth is also available on all the computers in the Hurst and SPA labs.

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