New Paper to Digital Tool

Google's built in OCR

As I posted earlier, I had the privilege of attending the ATIA conference last week.  I learned a ton!  One of the most high-impact takeaways is that Google has a really good and simple to use OCR product.  OCR stands for “optical character recognition”.  This is the software that can convert pictures of text into true digital text. A few weeks ago, I posted about a new tool we were rolling out in the district called Prizmo that does the same thing.  While Prizmo is good, I think this solution is even better!   With this built-in Google software, a teacher or (even better) a student could take a picture of text on paper and convert it to a digital format that can be used with Read&Write for Google.  This is really empowering, cool, and exciting!  Here’s how it works.

Take a picture of the page with a phone, iPad, or any other camera that will save the image in a digital format.  It doesn’t matter what the file type is either — it can be a “.jpg” or a “.gif” or a “.pdf”.  They’re all good.  Save the picture file to Drive.  While in Drive, right-click or control-click on the file to pull up a submenu — see the screenshot above.  Select, “Open with” and mouse-over the arrow to open the cascade menu — again shown on the screenshot.  Select, “Google Docs”.  That’s it!  Google will create a new Doc.  At the top of the Doc, will be the original picture.  And, below will be all of the text it could recognize from the picture in full digital format — ready to be read, edited, and used by students with Read&Write.  It is so simple, it takes much more time to explain the steps than to actually do them!

Besides the pure simplicity of this tool, it also seems to be really forgiving of text orientation, shadows, or other visual obstructions.  If you look closely at my screenshot, you can see my original picture has the text sideways, there some really visible shadows, and a lot of the text is in color-shaded boxes.  These are all things that have given other OCR software titles I’ve tried-out fits.  The Google tool converted this text with ease.  Here’s a link to the output of the conversion.  Notice, that it re-oriented the photo and Google even adjusted some of the font sizes to align with what was shown on the original paper.

I’ve been looking for good OCR software for better part of the last year.  I found out about this feature in a Google session at ATIA, but this feature was not part of the outlined presentation.  The presenter was doing some Q and A near the end of the meeting and mentioned this feature was there in an off-handed manner.  So, I’m guessing this has been in place for quite some time.  Grant Wood sent a number of people to this conference, too.  They attended this session as well and none of them knew this was their either.  So, I don’t feel quite so bad.

I encourage all staff members to give this a try with students.  And, better yet, encourage kids to use their phones to take advantage of this really great functionality.  Using this feature in conjunction with Read&Write for Google is a great way to give students “voice and choice” in their learning.  It will also make it possible for them to use their strengths to be more successful.  As always, let me know if you have questions or if you’ve had good luck with this tool.

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