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Virginia Journal of Education


Google: Much More Than a Search Engine

by Karen Work Richardson

It would not be a surprise to any of you that I use a word processor to draft these columns. Text editing software, such as Microsoft Word, is ubiquitous. What might surprise you is that the word processor I am using is not on my computer at all. Instead, it is housed on the Internet and was created by a company that is itself so ubiquitous that it is now a verb: Google. We don't just search the Internet any more, we "google" it. And, while most people are familiar with using Google for searching, many are not aware of the variety of other ways Google can support them in both their personal and professional lives.

We'll start with the search engine, though, because it offers many features in addition to the simple box on the home page. For users who want to get a little more serious, the Advanced Search link provides options for narrowing your search by including and excluding words and choosing a particular language. You can also enter a URL for a Web page you like and search for pages with similar information. And, the language tools make it possible to translate Web pages from different languages, opening up a whole new Internet to users.

Take a look at the upper left hand corner of the home page. Google has built format-specific search engines that allow you to look for almost everything including images, videos, maps and news stories. Click the more menu and you'll find even more search possibilities, including books, weblogs and academic articles. The book search can be especially helpful since Google has made deals with many book publishers that allow users to read parts of the books online. These tools are also available right from the search results page under the options link. So once you've done an initial search, those terms will be automatically entered in the format-specific fields. Finally, I like the ability to either increase or decrease the number of shopping sites that appear. If I'm in the market for something, I'll increase it, but when I'm doing work-related searching, I'll decrease it. You can also choose to view selected images from the site to give you a better idea of what is available.
Besides the search engine, my most essential Google tools are gmail, Google's e-mail application; and Google Docs, Google's online productivity tool. I have several different e-mail accounts that can all be forwarded to gmail. In addition, by using the label feature to assign keywords to e-mails, I am able to keep my inbox empty and yet quickly find what I'm looking for in the archive.

Google Docs offers a free word processor, spreadsheet and slide presentation creator.  Users can also use the spreadsheet application to quickly and easily design and publish online forms and surveys. Because these documents are stored online, they can be accessed from any computer and the Share feature makes it easy to collaborate with others to write and produce documents, spreadsheets and slide shows.

Google continues to add new features and applications to its online tool kit. Two recent additions focus on increasing online collaboration (Google Groups) and facilitating Web publishing (Google Sites). While Google did not invent either of these types of applications--Yahoo has been sponsoring group spaces and online publishing for a long time--they are giving them a fresh look and the ease of use that we have come to expect from this Internet giant.
Google Groups is just what it sounds like...a place to meet and interact with others who share your interests in either public or private forums. Publishing on the Internet has gotten increasingly easier. Teachers are making use of blogging web sites like Edublogs or wikis like wikispaces and PBWiki to create websites for their students. Google's tool, called Sites, functions much like a wiki, allowing collaborative writing and editing. Page creation happens with the click of a link and the site takes care of building in navigation.

This article only gets at a few of the services and applications offered by Google. From the home page, click the “More” menu and then look for the “Even More” menu. There are over 20 ways to search and organize the Internet, and there are Web-based and downloadable applications such as Picasa, a photo editor and publisher, and Sketchup, a 3D drawing program.

I would encourage you to spend some time "googling" around...check out the different tools and have fun exploring the Web in new and different ways.

Richardson recently completed her PhD in Curriculum and Educational Technology at the College of William and Mary, where she is also an adjunct instructor. She serves on the board of directors of the Virginia Society for Technology in Education.



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