G Suite – to share and collaborate on documents and presentations online

(Image attribution: Photo by Headway on Unsplash)

Microsoft Office is a suite of programs that I’d imagine most people have encountered, whilst it’s a good suite of programs and all University of Sussex staff have access to a full licence (details on the ITS website ), it is not the only option.

G Suite is a collection of programs created by Google, which is free to use. If you already have a Gmail account then you will have access to G Suite, otherwise you can sign up using any existing email address. There are three main programs; Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Sheets that are alternatives to Microsoft Word, Powerpoint and Excel respectively.

There are a number of secondary apps such as Google Calendar, Gmail, Google Hangouts and Google Forms but for this post we’ll be focusing only on two of the most used programs, Google Docs and Google Slides.

Google Docs

Google Docs works like a more streamlined version of Word. Both have the same basic functionality for writing a text document, although Word has more advanced user tools and options such as watermarking, multi-column layout and advanced formatting. Google Docs provides an easier and simpler user experience as there are fewer options to pick from and a less cluttered interface.

A Google Doc

Google Slides

Google Slides enables you to create presentations that are informative and visually interesting due to its up to date styles and templates which look both modern and fresh. The navigational structure is very similar to Powerpoint but with a more minimalist approach. It also includes features such as a Q&A for presenters to answer questions from the audience and the ability to easily search for Youtube videos and then directly embed them in your presentations.

A Google Slides Presentation

The cloud

G Suite and OneDrive are cloud-based so can be accessed from  any computer, tablet or mobile device. Rather than relying on a USB stick you can access all your Google Suite documents and presentations from any computer in any classroom as long as it’s connected to the internet.

This also means all your documents are securely backed up in the case of a device failing to work or being lost. G Suite documents also automatically save themselves as you work meaning there’s no worries about a program crashing or forgetting to save a document.  

You’ll be given 10GB of free cloud storage with your Google account in a file storage system called Google Drive, which is where all G Suite documents are stored and accessed. Its useful to note that G Suite documents don’t count against this limit so you can keep creating as many new files as you’d like.

Of course there are some downsides and limitations, the most notable being that as G Suite is online, it needs an internet connection to work properly.  If you go offline you can still access G suite documents but they won’t auto save and will have limited functionality until you re-connect to the internet.

Whichever cloud-based tools and storage you are thinking of using, the ITS website offers some good advice on file storage and the Library has advice on Research Data Management.

Sharing and Collaboration

It is very easy to share your G suite documents with others, all you need is their email address and you can give anyone access to view the live version of your document from their web browser. This means they’ll automatically be able to see any changes you make to your document as you make them in real time rather then having to send files back and forth over email. So if you are sharing resources with students you can update the central document and it will update for all your students.

You can also work collaboratively with other users on G suite documents in real time allowing them access to write and edit your document together or allowing them to add comments and suggested changes to a document. This can also enable you to create collaborative lecture or seminar notes with your students.

A Google Doc being collaboratively worked on.

Any edits take effect immediately, and past versions of documents are automatically saved in case you need to revert back to an older version. This prevents version control issues.

There is also a sidebar chat for each document which allows those with access to chat and discuss edits and changes to the document. This can be great for students working in groups on projects to communicate as they collaboratively complete work.

More useful features.

G Suite documents are compatible with Microsoft Office documents and vice-versa, this means if a colleague sends you a Microsoft Word document you’d be able to open it in Google Docs, view and edit it and then send it back to them as a Microsoft Word document. This also means all your current Microsoft files and documents can be used with Google Docs. A recent update has also allowed you to add comments to Microsoft Word files in the same manner you would add them to a Google Doc

Google Docs also has an Explore feature that reads your document’s content and then offers information and images about related topics from around the web.  The explore feature can also be used within Google Slides where it helps provide a range of layouts and styles based on the content of your presentation, allowing you to quickly create a visually engaging presentation.

Just like Office 365, G Suite and Google Drive will also be able to integrate with our new Canvas VLE, this will enable academics to link or embed content from their Google Drive into their courses and allow students to share, view and contribute to Canvas Collaborations using Google Docs, Sheets and Slides.

Potential ideas for teaching

  • Share on-the-fly feedback on students’ work using the comments and suggestions features in Google Docs or encourage students to provide peer feedback on each others’ work using the same features.
  • Share a Google Doc of a text, such as an example essay, and ask students to add comments and suggestions.
  • Set up a shared Google Doc for collaborative note taking.
  • Share the web address of your slides with students during class to allow them to make a copy, add their own notes, and go through them at their own pace.

For more ideas or help with using G Suite in your teaching please contact Technology Enhanced Learning at tel@sussex.ac.uk 

Further Resources

To get started with Google Docs simply visit https://www.google.co.uk/docs/about/ and sign up.

Google has created a whole website full of helpful guides to getting started using G Suite.

The Department of Education here at the University of Sussex successfully used G Suite for Education (a similar version of G Suite but with more features suited towards classroom organisation)  with a cohort of PGCE students. To read more about this please see ‘Sussex students to work with Google for Education’.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Mobile learning

How do you create stunning visual content for free? Adobe Spark is how.

Adobe Spark

There are times when you want to have complete creative control over the content you create, and when you are able to spend time on making the perfect image, video or portfolio. There are also times when you need to be able to produce something that looks great in a fraction of the time.

Adobe Spark is for those of you who need great looking results quickly. The three tools, Post, Page and Video, cover most content types, removing the technical barriers and getting you straight to the result. Below we’ll take a look into these tools for quick, easy and free content creation.

Post, for creating images with text.

Upon clicking create, you are prompted to type your message and choose an image size. You can select from a range of preset sizes, from Facebook posts, blog posts or Twitter images to Instagram images and much more. There are also standard image sizes. Once that is done you can change your image using Adobe’s royalty free image search, upload your own image or use a colour background. You have plenty of fonts and dozens of styles to choose from. What is particularly great is you can still have quite a lot of creative control, but if you want Adobe to do it for you then you still get good results. It’s worth noting that on the mobile app you can add animated backgrounds and save your creations as videos.

Page, to combine images and text into a slick scrolling page.

As with Post, all you need to do is choose how you want the section to display, choose what it displays and scroll on to the next section. This tool is brilliant if you want to tell a short story, put together a quick bio or portfolio, such as reflections on a field trip. When your page is ready you can share it using the generated link or use the embed code to put in your course site or own website.

Video, for when you need something more animated and dynamic.

When you are creating video with Spark, it starts by asking your title and then wants to know what kind of narrative you are after. Do you want to ‘Tell what happened’, ‘Promote an idea’, or ‘Teach a lesson’? These will automatically populate the amount of scenes your video has with text prompts as to the kind of content (see the image below). Whilst you may not need reminding about how to tell a story, it is helpful to have these prompts to help us be concise and on message to ensure maximum engagement.

Within Video you get to choose how each scene looks, for example you can have a symbol and text, just an image or just text and so on. There are a range of themes for you to select and each animates the transitions differently. It’s worth looking through them to decide which fit your video. You then record audio over the top of each slide and you can choose some music if you wish. The slides then automatically animate according to your chosen theme. After which you can share with a link or an embed code, or download the video.

Adobe Spark is free to use, you can sign in with your Facebook, Google or Adobe account or use your email. On the web all three tools are part of the same web page. On your mobile device they are three separate apps.

Why do we love Adobe Spark?

I would put these apps into the essential category for iPad users, and the web experience is just as good. Adobe Spark removes the tech from creating content. In our experience students love using it as they can create great looking posts, pages and videos without worrying about the tools they are using. The focus is on the content rather than the tech. The same goes for tutors, if you need to create an explainer video or an eye catching image for your course site and don’t have time to spend on production, this is the tool for you.

University of Sussex staff who would like help creating teaching resources can contact Technology Enhanced Learning on tel@sussex.ac.uk


Canva creates images similar to Post. Check out our blog post Introducing Canva: an accessible graphic design tool‘.

Microsoft Sway creates scrolling content similar to Pages.

Powtoon, despite becoming increasingly limited in what you can do for free, is a tool for creating animated videos. 

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in App review

Canvas Highlights – 2. Groups

Canvas Highlights 2: Groups
Canvas provides lots of opportunities for students to learn together. One of the features that enables this is Groups. This post provides a brief overview of Canvas Groups and suggests some ways in which teachers and learners may want to use them.

Groups and Group Sets in Canvas

When an instructor creates groups in Canvas they can gather together a number of groups in a Group Set. For example, you might have students working on group presentations, so a Group Set called ‘Presentation Groups’ could be set up containing 10 groups of students.

There are several ways that Canvas enables the creation of groups by tutors (instructors).

  • Automatically create groups: choose how many groups you want and Canvas will create them and divide the students between the groups.
  • Manually create groups: create a group and drag and drop students’ names into it.
  • Self sign-up: Set the number of groups required, or the number of members per group and let students choose which group they want to join. This would be ideal for group presentations.
  • Student created groups: Students can create their own groups in Canvas.

Whichever way you choose to create groups there is an option to assign a group leader. This can be by choosing a particular name, making the first student to join the group the leader, or by randomly assigning a leader. Group leaders are able to edit the group name and add or remove members.

All activity within groups on a course can be viewed by the instructors (tutors) and administrators.

Collaborative learning in Canvas Groups

Once groups are set up, each group has its own space in Canvas with an array of tools to use, as in the example below. These include Announcements, Pages, Discussions, Files, Conferences and Collaborations.

Group space for collaborative learning in Canvas

Group space for collaborative learning in Canvas


Keeping track of the task.

The Home page shows announcements, discussions and calendar entries so students can keep in touch and track of the meetings they have arranged and when the work is due.

Sharing resources

Each group has a files storage area where they can collect material. Images for a presentation could be stored here.

Group Files area

Group Files area


Discussions, which are like forums with threaded conversations and options to share images, links and files, are great for asynchronous communication. Alternatively, the Conferences feature in Canvas allows students to have live online meetings which can be recorded for anyone who missed the meeting (recordings are available for 14 days). As well as helping students ‘get together’ when they cannot physically meet, this could also be useful for getting used to presenting online – a great skill to develop.

Group Discussion in Canvas

Group Discussion in Canvas


There are a few options for working together on documents in Canvas.

Group pages work like a Wiki, allowing members to edit a page together. Alternatively, Collaborations let students share access to files in Office 365 or Google Docs so they can work on presentations, spreadsheets or documents together.

We will be looking in more detail at some of these features in future Canvas Highlights posts. We have a dedicated Canvas section on the TEL website (http://www.sussex.ac.uk/tel/canvas) and you can subscribe to this blog or follow us on Twitter (@SussexTEL) to receive all our Canvas news and information.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Canvas

Feed Forward: 5 steps for students to make the most of feedback

“Got Feedback?” flickr photo by cogdogblog https://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/14279306964 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

What is feedback and why is it important?

Feedback on your performance at university comes in many forms – it could be something as simple as your tutor nodding in agreement when you make a point in seminar discussion, responses from your classmates when you give a presentation, or the score from an online quiz.

Most often, we tend to think about ‘feedback’ as the comments markers give on written work and/or the descriptors in marking rubrics or grids. This post will focus on how you can get the most benefit from feedback on your written work.

Whatever form it takes, feedback is most useful when you use it to develop your learning and improve your performance in the future. Usually markers will provide a mixture of feedback and ‘feed forward’.

‘While feedback focuses on current performance…feed forward looks ahead to the next assignment.’


5 Steps to making the most of feedback and feed forward

These steps are adapted from the feedback guidance on the Skills Hub

1. Be sure to look at your feedback.

If you have submitted your work online, you can access your feedback via Study Direct and / or Sussex Direct. If your work was submitted manually, make sure you know where and when you can collect your marked work – your School Office will be able to help you.


You can also find guidance on viewing your feedback in Turnitin and understanding Turnitin similarity on our e-submission and feedback guidance for students webpages.

2. Think about what your mark means.

Most assignments will be marked against assessment criteria, which will be published in advance. A mark in a particular grade band will correspond to a description of the strengths of the work and indicate areas to develop. If your assignment was submitted through Turnitin the assessment criteria might be displayed in a rubric indicating how well your work met each of the criteria. You can see rubric feedback by clicking on the ‘View Rubric’ button.

You can then see the comments that relate to each of the criteria as in this example.

Example of rubric feedback – the highlighted blocks relate to this piece of work.

To get some tips for improving your work, look at the descriptors for the higher grades and think about how you could reach those in future.

3. Read all the comments and make notes

These could be comments in the margins, or on a rubric / grading form. You might have been given audio feedback, so look out for that and listen to it carefully. It is a good idea to make some notes from your feedback, especially noting down the things you did well and aspects that you want to work on for future assignments.

4. Tap into helpful resources and support

If you have any questions about your feedback, arrange to meet with your tutor or Academic Advisor to discuss it. They will be pleased to offer you advice on how you can improve your understanding and written work.

There is also lots of excellent general advice on the Skills Hub to help you with writing and assessment. If you want to focus on your writing, the Royal Literary Fund Writers-in-Residence in the Library offer free one-to-one tutorials. International students or those for whom English is a second or additional language can access English language and study skills support provided by the Sussex Centre for Language Studies (SCLS).

5. Feed forward

Before you start work on your next assignment, look back at the notes you made on your feedback (see 3 above) and any notes from meetings with a tutor or from the other resources mentioned in section 4. Don’t forget those important assessment criteria – they describe the characteristics of good work and are an excellent guide as you start planning your writing.

Where can I get more advice?

Students can find more advice on writing and assessment on the Skills Hub.

Staff marking e-submissions might find this previous post on ‘Constructively aligning criterion feedback using Turnitin’ useful, and can contact tel@sussex.ac.uk to discuss ways to enhance feedback.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in feedback

Moving to Canvas: what’s happening behind the scenes

Canvas update
Since the first announcement of our decision to adopt Canvas, there has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes to get the new virtual learning environment (VLE) ready for our staff and students. Some of this work will continue throughout the Spring and Summer, but here’s a brief summary of what we’ve been up to so far: Read more ›

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Canvas

Discover Campus: using augmented reality to learn about the history of our University

As part of Digital Discovery Week, myself (Pete Sparkes, Learning Technologist) and Bethany Logan (Research Support Supervisor, Library) used technology to create a series of interactive posters using augmented reality (dubbed ‘Discover Campus’) to provide bite-sized, location-based digital learning resources across campus.

The use of this technology enabled us to present a historical narrative, supported by a video montage of photos from archival collections at The Keep, presenting the history of Falmer House (Students’ Union), the Library and the Arts buildings which staff, students and visitors alike could engage with through their smartphones and tablets. Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in AR/VR/360

Canvas highlights 1. Quizzes

Canvas Highlights 1. QuizzesWelcome to the first in a series of posts highlighting exciting features staff and students can expect to find in the university’s new virtual learning environment (VLE), Canvas. Each of these posts will showcase a great feature within Canvas that you can use to enhance you and your students’ experience. Canvas will be used for all Sussex modules from the beginning of the 2018/19 academic year.

We’re going to start with something nearly everybody uses, quizzes. In Canvas as you’ll see in the brief intro video below, quizzes are easy to set-up, author and build into your assessment cycle. Read more ›

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Canvas

Canvas will replace StudyDirect as the Sussex VLE

Canvas by Instructure
From the beginning of the 2018/19 academic year, Sussex will be using Canvas as the institutional Virtual Learning Environment. Canvas will enhance our capability to offer a truly modern, digital learning experience, combining an intuitive, clean workspace with robust, cloud-based operation and is as easy to use on a mobile as on a desktop computer.

TEL are developing an extensive programme of training and support for academic and professional services staff. We’ll be pulling out all the stops to get everyone ready for the new opportunities in teaching and learning that using Canvas will bring. We are also engaging with USSU on a comprehensive communication plan for all students.

To support our move to Canvas, there is now a dedicated section of the TEL website. We’ll also post regular updates on this blog to keep you on the pulse of the latest developments, right up to September and beyond.

Watch out for more news very soon.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Canvas

About our blog

We are the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow us on Twitter