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Google for Education gets a host of updates as the school year starts

Engadget Engadget 17/08/2016 Nathan Ingraham

Google's Chromebook has been particularly successful in the education market -- and that's helped drive its broader software platform, Google for Education. It's similar to the business offerings Google offers, with access to Gmail, Docs, Sheets, Slides and so on, but it also adds the specialized Google Classroom tool that helps students and teachers stay in sync. With the school year about to kick off again, Google has a handful of updates ready for its education products that are rolling out today.

The first new tool for the Google Classroom app is meant to help parents stay up to date on what their kids are working on. Teachers can set up a daily or weekly summary of what the class is doing and it'll be sent to parents automatically. It's meant to keep parents more informed and thus more engaged with what their kids are working on, and this feature sounds like it'll take a minimal amount of effort to make that happen.

Another addition to Google Classroom puts another nail in the coffin of the venerable whiteboard. The Classroom mobile app now supports the ability to annotate documents, for both students and teachers. Students can now sketch out things like math problems or create visuals to accompany assignments right on their devices, while teachers can go through and mark up homework like they used to do with the dreaded red marker. Teachers can also highlight passages in text assignments they send out or in digital books, as well. It sounds like a way to make digital assignments feel more like classic pen and paper work, and there's a lot of instances where that makes sense.

Other updates to Classroom include new organization features that let you tag specific posts and then search by those tags; you can also preview documents, PDFs, images and video right in the app. Google Forms, the company's survey / questionnaire tool, also got a pretty significant update. It now supports images, so you can include a picture along with a question or use multiple pictures as answers to multiple-choice questions. And Google for Education users can finally get their hands on Inbox, the company's continually-updating vision for how it can handle email in different (and often smarter) ways.

Lastly, Google's adding a number of new "expeditions" -- the company's idea of virtual reality field trips. And if you're not a student, fear not: Expeditions are available for anyone. You just need an Android device (iOS support is "coming soon"), and you'll probably enjoy it a lot more if you pair your phone with Google Cardboard.

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