Sunday, January 13, 2019

Your Very Own App You Can Do

This is my "baby". More than a year ago, I included the idea of making an app from Google Slides in "5 Google Slides Activities You Can Do". It is a really cool idea shared by Micah Shippee, so I took my own advice and I created an app using Google Slides.


Why? I co-coordinate the 8th grade Washington, DC trip and one of the things we strive for is efficient and effective communication. I have been using our website for this for the last handful of years. It works fine, but we were receiving many emails with questions from parents about the information I already had on our site. At the same time, I see how connected we all are to our phones, so why wasn't our website serving this purpose? Would an app would be better? Would an app be a better reference point and home for our info? These questions all led me to investigating this Slides app idea. I wanted to find a way to better manage our info so it was friendlier to our parents and student travelers and therefor freeing up time for me to focus on the trip.

Why Slides? I already knew how versatile Slides can be. I can customize the size and orientation, font and colors, as well as being able to insert images and shapes. The ability to link - outside to websites, Docs, and PDFs, as well as within the deck to other slides - is impressive.... and exactly what I needed.

Interested? I hope so. As much as I'd love to show you the exact app I created for our trip (I am extremely proud of it!), I can't because I can't share all of our info. This is a bonus of using Slides! I can share it with those who need the info, rather than putting all the info on our website for the whole world to see (or an app store where anyone can download it and I'd have to figure out how make it account based). I do still maintain our website with the basics of the trip because it is a starting point.

I did duplicate our app, taking out info I can't share. [If you are on a phone or tablet, you can really experience it as an app ... but an added bonus of it being a Slide? It works on computers!] If you'd like to preview this in its app form, click here ↬ http://bit.ly/yourveryownapp . [I provide a template below you may make a copy of if you want a starting point for your own app. Feel free to use the pieces you like and get rid of what doesn't work for you or you don't like.]

Another bonus to using Slides is I can update the Slide as much/often as I want, and each time it is opened, it's the most updated version. With an app, you might have to wait until the person updates the app itself to be able to share the new info. 

"Title Slide"
Where to Start? I started with the traditional blank Google Slide. I changed the page setup to a customized 8.5 x 11 inches to mimic a piece of paper. (It appears to fit phone/tablet screens nicely, but this might be an area of improvement for me in the future.)

Slide 1: Title Slide  In my mind's eye I had a very clear idea of what I wanted ... a "title" slide that you always see when you open it up - I wanted it themed with our school colors and mascot and clearly identified as the 8th grade Washington, DC trip.

Slide 2: Highlights/Focused  this was not part of my original app. It was added later and pushed the Homepage to slide 3. This slide forced the viewer to SEE what I chose to highlight. I forced the viewer to go to this slide right after the Title Slide. Typically what I had on here was the next "item/due date" for our trip. I kept it clean and straight-forward. There was NO mistaking the message I posted! GREAT addition to the app ... highly recommend it's addition to any app!

Homepage Slide
Slide 3: Homepage  you are navigated to the homepage after the Highlights Slide. Here live the app-sized links to various pieces of information regarding the trip. About 1/2 of the app-sized links then link to a "Hub Slide" which then allows me to group information and keep the Homepage a bit cleaner. I worried I would end up with too many apps and it would become cluttered and therefor, unusable. The other 1/2 of the app-sized links link directly to it's 'item' (example the Google Form to order a trip t-shirt or to fill out the medical information) or it might link to a slide that contains specific information.

Communication Hub Slide
Slide 4+: "Hub Slides"  once I grouped information together (example "Communication") the Hub Slide allowed me to keep like info together. One Hub Slide I could see a lot of teachers utilizing is the Communication Hub. Keeping all ways to communicate in one spot is a great way to keep parents informed - put an end to the "I didn't know" message from parents again! I put links to our tour company's website, links to emails for myself and co-coordinator, our Twitter account, the trip calendar, a slide with the PDF giving instructions on how to join our Remind group, and a link to a packet of information (that would show up as a Google Doc). 

How to Make Slides Work Like an App  


For the apps on each Slide, I decided on a grid layout. I referenced my phone a lotThe apps all look like rounded off squares, so I made 'template' app that I could easily duplicate, then changed the background color of each to complement the topic for that app. I chose a font that looked clean and easy to read (Didact Gothic) and stuck with it throughout the app. I chose to use Word Art over text boxes for the names of the apps so I could spend less time adjusting font size since Word Art easily adjusts - I also duplicated one app title for each new app I added. For the image, I sized one to fit nicely in the center, then use the "Replace Image" in the toolbar after I duplicated the template app, which helped keep the apps more or less the same size and shape. I stuck closely to the transparent images so they looked like true apps. The final piece, and possibly the most important part, is a transparent, borderless, rounded square, sized a bit larger than the app & its title. THIS shape IS the link to the slide/website/email/PDF/Google Doc/etc. Boom! It really truly feels like real apps!

Next ... 

In the top right corner, I also designed a link going back to the Homepage, so from any point in the app, the viewer could navigate back to this slide quickly. If the viewer was on an item linked off a Hub Slide, I added a 2nd link under the Homepage link to navigate back to that particular Slide, too. Same as with the apps, the Homepage link and a Hub Slide link, I covered them with a transparent shape, a bit bigger than the app itself.

Things I Learned as the App Was Used ... 

Wanting to maximize all capabilities of Slides, I utilized the gray space around the Slide to hold my template app, links to things either I have yet to add or have taken off. (This is for future reference.) The gray space is beneficial on any Slidedeck, especially one whose intention is to house information. One of the best pieces is that you can house anything you want there, and it won't show on the app. (The speaker notes work well for this, too!)

What I also found helpful was to create a large transparent shape that covered the entire slide. This probably sounds like overkill, but I found it to be extremely helpful. This slide-sized shape covered everything except the transparent shapes that link to another slide, a Doc, a website, etc. I added a link to this slide-size shape that actually links right back to the slide it covers. If anything other than a link off the slide was clicked, the viewer stayed right where they were. I figured this would help lessen the accidental navigation within the Slide. After all, this Slidedeck is not for a presentation!

*** I didn't do this on my app, but another thought I had is to restrict the sharing privileges of any Google Doc/link you link to if you want to add additional security to information. Example a doc you only want a select person/people see ... only those people can see it because of the sharing privileges. ***

Final Step: Publishing 

The final step to turning your Slidedeck into an app is to go to "File --> Publish to the Web". Leave all the settings the way they are, (you don't want it to auto-advance) click publish, and copy the link in that window. This is the link you share. Since this link is long and what I consider "ugly", you might want to make a shortened URL to make it easier to share. I like using bit.ly since I have the ability to change the link to make it something that "makes sense" rather than random letters/numbers. This makes it easy for ME, too, when I want to share it. (It doesn't hurt that bit.ly also gives some basic stats.)

When I shared it out, I recommended viewers use the feature on their phone/tablet to "add to the home screen" and it really makes it look like an app plus it makes it easily accessible in the future!!! Using a bookmark on your computer is the same idea. This is super cool! Our teachers also linked to the app in our LMS for our student travelers to access on their Chromebooks as well.


Here is the link to a template you can take & make your own. Feel free to adjust as you like ↬ http://bit.ly/slidesapptemplate


Other Possible Applications? ...


After creating the app for our trip, I absolutely can see a Slides app serving a purpose other than a class trip. A teacher can create an app to be shared with parents and students and build it out to house info about homework, important dates, links to curricular resources, digital programs the students use, school resources, and more.

One More Thought ...

Slides vs real App? Once I really had a good handle on my Slides app, I started toying with the questions ... why not make a real one? So, last summer, I also worked on just that ... and I did create one! Then ...

... I realized the cost (it wasn't exactly cheap)
... I realized the legal hoops that come with putting an app in the app store
... I realized each time I needed/wanted to update the Slide, those who use the app would need to as well
... Would I charge for it?
... and, I realized that if I put it out "there" I needed to be conscious of who would be able to 'get' my app

I met with my Superintendent and showed both to him. He supported them both. But the above hurdles were too heavy a weight on my shoulders for the upcoming trip, and ultimately I stuck to the Slides version with NO REGRETS!


How It Worked Out ...

The day came to share it to our student travelers, their parents, and our teacher chaperones. I was terrified. A nervous wreck. As I told Alyssa, my co-coordinator for the trip, I was sending my "baby" out to play in traffic! What if no one used it? What if it wasn't helpful? What if I linked things wrong? What if ... a thousand other things. Such relief when positive reviews rolled in!

As a side note - while we were on the trip, I also found I could edit the Slide if needed, by using the Slides app on my phone. WHOA!

And finally ... the ultimate test to any tool is how do you answer this question: "Will you use it again?" Yes! 100 times over and over, Yes! I just may have started making next years app a day or two after we returned . . . . . 😊

Are you interested? I'd love to help you make your own app. Contact me in the comments below, on Twitter @kiefersj, or email sarah@techyoucando.com .


2 comments:

  1. Hi Sarah,
    You're right on about the complications of creating a "real" app. Just the need to make it cross-platform is a huge hurdle. Apple doesn't make it easy to get an app in it's store. I've been working on apps using Slides as well. The first one I tackled is a substitute teacher app. Someone posted the idea for this last year I believe. But, I wasn't happy with the look. It takes me a while because I am a stickler for aesthetics as well as functionality. I decided to try and make it as close to a material design as I can. I want it to look good on all types of devices as well. The biggest tip when using Slides for this is to get that transparent shape behind your linked buttons so the slides don't advance erroneously. However, one thing I haven't overcome is this happening when you roll the scroll wheel on the mouse. It still scrolls through the pages. I'm thinking my programmer son might be able to figure something out. I will let you know if we come up with anything. Charlie

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    1. Charlie - you are correct. I don't know that there ever will be something to prevent the advancement of slide with the rollerball while on a computer. However, my goal with this Slidedeck is for it to be used most of the time on a phone/tablet therefor limiting the possibility of this. (I just also find it valuable that it's possible to be viewed on computers.) If you figure something out - PLEASE let me know!

      I, too, am a STICKLER for aesthetics!!! Color and alignment is crucial ... and I put a LOT of thought into each piece that was added. It makes a big difference. The ColorPick Eyedropper extension was invaluable to me. Don't hesitate to reach out -- I'm happy to help!
      Sarah

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