Embed Google Docs and manage with Drive

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Continuing the series on embedding content in Canvas, this time focusing on Google Docs and Drive.

The example Canvas course being referred to is at https://canvas.instructure.com/courses/1202385 please feel free to join that course if you’d like to follow it as a guide and step through to setting up your own course in Canvas.

To use this method, you need to use a non-RMIT Google account to set up your course’s Google Drive folder and documents. This is because RMIT Google accounts have restrictions on some of the features we want to use here, specifically ‘Publish to the Web’.

The first step then is to create a folder for the course (using your non-RMIT Google account) and then share that folder with your RMIT account to make editing and managing your work easier later on. You might like to share the folder with any collaborators you are working with at this stage as well.

Then go about creating folders and pages for the structure of your course. Perhaps start with a folder for ‘Assignments’ or ‘Assessments’. Then create a document in that folder for each assignment/assessment. Put a few lines of text just to get started.

At this point you might like to consider the page set up on your first document. Under File – PageSetup I set my margins all to zero. Removing the page margins just helps the document to display better in Canvas. You don’t have to change the Page Setup, it’s just something to think about. If you do, use that document as a master template for any other documents you create.

Now let’s embed the document in its corresponding area in Canvas. The document only needs to be started, not finished, because any edits you do from now on will be updated in Canvas as well. So we’re just setting up at this stage.

In your Google Doc, click File – Publish to the web. In the dialog box you’ll need to publish the document, then click the “embed” tab and copy the text from there. Now you open your Canvas site and create or navigate to the Assignment that corresponds with the Google Doc you have created. Click ‘Edit’ on that assignment, switch to HTML editor, and paste the code you copied.

Now you need to do something a little odd. You need to switch the Canvas editor to ‘Rich Content Editor’ briefly, then back to ‘HTML editor’. The reason being is that the code you pasted in didn’t come with width and heights for the embed window, canvas inserts that for you. Now, back in HTML mode, you can edit the default width that Canvas added, to ‘100%’ and the height to whatever you think is necessary – say, ‘500’. The height number can change to however much you think is necessary to display the Google Doc content, perhaps use 500 as a minimum. Save that Canvas Assignment.

From now on, any edits you make to the Google Docs that you’ve embedded in Canvas will be automatically displayed in their corresponding Canvas pages, assignments, events, syllabus, and so on. The reasons you might want to do this are hopefully obvious, but here’s just a few:

  1. You need collaborative authoring and version control on your course.
  2. The people you’re collaborating with don’t all have access to Canvas, nor are they familiar with it yet, or likely to be in time before the course starts. Using Google Drive helps your team get started and to focus on the essentials of the course content, activities and assignments first.
  3. You want to have a backup plan for if and when the teachers or the students can’t access Canvas. You can refer to the Google Drive directly if Canvas becomes a problem for anyone; and you can download the Google Drive and send a zip file if access to Google becomes an issue.
  4. You want to add graphic design to your Google Docs, Slides, Drawings, etc, and when your designer is ready to work on the files, their additions will be immediately available in Canvas.

There are other reasons as to why it can be good to embed Google Docs into Canvas and manage the content in Google Drive, but let’s consider some of the downsides.

  1. It can be difficult to add links to other areas in Canvas to an embedded document. It’s not impossible, but can be problematic.
  2. You can’t embed Youtube and other rich media into a Google Doc. You can embed Youtube in Google Slides however, and you can embed Slides into Canvas the same way as you do Docs.
  3. You should avoid creating navigation links within an embedded Google Doc or Slides if you want Canvas to record all usage data. Canvas won’t be able to record clicks and interactivity that happens within an embedded file, only what happens on the Canvas links and features themselves.
  4. Juggling two Google accounts can be difficult for some people, but this isn’t an issue once the files have been set up and shared with RMIT account collaborators. Once the project is complete or stable, you can transfer ownership to an RMIT account if anyone is nervous, but if you want to embed any new content, that content has to be first created by a non-RMIT Google account.

So there’s a primer to embedding Google Docs in Canvas and managing the content on Google Drive. Please feel free to leave a comment, suggestion, question or criticism.

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