Friday, August 8, 2014

Extending Your Browsing Power with Chrome Extensions



If you've been using Chrome or Firefox for any length of time, you're probably already familiar with extensions. Extensions (called add-ons in Firefox, the last I checked) are apps that add new functionality to your browser. There are literally thousands of Chrome extensions available at the Chrome Web Store (don't let the word "store" spook you - I've never seen one that isn't free or at least 'freemium'). Adding them is extremely easy. There are several ways to do it: go to the Chrome Web Storego to your extensions page by either clicking the menu button in the top right hand of the browser and then click Tools > Extensions or Settings and then clicking Extensions on the next page, or just jump straight to your extensions page by going to chrome://extensions/ and clicking "Get more extensions" at the bottom of the page.


My Top Extensions for Educators

This is not a comprehensive list of my favorite extensions by any stretch of the imagination, but these are some good ones specifically for educators. For a bigger, intermittently updated list or extensions, apps, and Drive add-ons click here.

Google Extensions:

Translate - Translate entire webpages (including Drive documents) into the various languages at Google Translate's disposal.

Save to Google Drive - Does what it says. Save web-content directly to Drive.

Dictionary - Adds a searchable dictionary to the navigation bar in Chrome. You can also highlight text to view a definition, though I've had trouble getting that to work sometimes.

Third-Party Extensions:

Read&Write for Google - This is an amazing tool. Select text from Google Drive documents, PDFs, and ebooks. The tool will read it out loud, define words with a word and picture dictionary, translate words into different languages, and more. This could have great potential for differentiated instruction in situations where some students need text read out loud, new ESL students, students with writing difficulties, etc. This tool requires a paid subscription UNLESS you have a Google Education account (like through your school district), in which case it's totally free. If you don't have an education account and don't want to pay for it, it still has some free features.

Select and Speak - This is a good alternative to Read&Write. Select text in the Chrome browser and the extension converts it to audio that you can play back at any time (even after you've closed the browser and come days later). An App that does this and shows up under my extensions (but not in the extensions page on the Web Store for some reason) is Chrome Speak.

AdBlock Plus - This extension blocks ads on the web. It's really bad for people trying to make money for the "free" stuff they put out on the Internet, so please turn it off for people you want to support. But what does it have to do with education? Picture this: you're showing a video about snorkeling near the Galapagos Islands as part of your unit on Darwin. Before the video starts, you have to watch a 30 second commercial for a line of bikinis. Now you've got howling kids and angry parents and administrators. AdBlock will prevent this sort of situation by getting rid of any ads that might pop up and embarrass you.

Web of Trust (WOT) - This is another extension that's great for everyone, educator or not. Web of Trust creates a database of websites. People can rate the trustworthiness and appropriateness of the sites. When you have the extension installed, external links (links that leave a website to go to another) have a little color-coded circle next to the link. A green circle indicates a link you can probably trust that is probably appropriate to your situation (you can set up a profile so that WOT knows what you're okay with or not), a red one indicates a site that will fill your computer with viruses and pop-ups. Like AdBlock, you can see how this would be helpful in the classroom as well as just net-life in general.

IE Tab - This extension is becoming more and more useless, thankfully. Still, you may find a use for it, especially if your district is using an older, less tech-savvy gradebook or web-mail system. Whenever you need to open a site in Internet Explorer, you can instead open it with the IE Tab extension, which opens a single tab of Internet Explorer inside of Chrome. From there, you can add that tab to your bookmarks. In the future, when you click that bookmark, it will automatically open the site in an IE Tab. 

Evernote Webclipper - This is an extension for the popular note-keeping / to-do list and more, Evernote. I'm a big fan of Evernote, so this is the one I use. With this, you can clip things from the web to your Evernote account, which can sync with all of your devices. Two alternatives to this that I haven't used but that are reportedly just as good are Pocket and Google Keep. So, as far as education goes, I mainly end up using this when I'm looking up lesson ideas or doing research as a way to keep it all organized and reachable as needed. 

bit.ly - bit.ly is a URL shortener. As far as URL shortener's go, I've usually used goo.gl in the past; however, bit.ly has the added benefit of letting you name the link whatever you want. This is great for putting links inside presentations or printed directions, as it allows students to much more easily type in the URL. The extension version lets you do this without having to go to the site.

Tabcloud - This is another one that is great in and out of the education field. Tabcloud lets you set up saved Chrome tab profiles for different situations. I have one for when I'm giving presentations that just has my blog and my presentation website up, another for work that has just Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Blogger, and Sites, one for break time that has my social media and various article sites I like to read, one for music and podcasts...the possibilities really are as endless as your imagination. In the classroom, you might have a Tabcloud saved for when you show your browser window to students, one that has things like Prezi, Discovery Education, etc. already up.

SnagIt - This is basically just a snipping tool, but it can also do annotations and capture video. It's really great for creating directions presentations or handouts, cutting the middleman of screenshots and image editors out of the equation.

HTTPS Everywhere - Another one that is just a good extension to have in general, but this is another one that will possibly save you some embarrassment and trouble in the classroom. HTTPS is a security protocol (actually it isn't technically, but that's the easiest way of thinking about it) that ensures that you are actually using the site that you intend to be using. 99% of the time, you probably won't need it, but it's a great thing to have around for the 1% of the time that you do.

Okay, that's it for now. Remember to check here for a bigger list of apps, extensions, and add-ons that I will intermittently update as I find new stuff.

Also, once again, special thanks to my EdTech mentor, Amy Mayer. I learned about probably half of these from talking to her or reading her blog. Check her out at www.friEdTechnology.com and follow her @friEdTechnology

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