If your child is tired of endless Zoom calls and typing on screens, Microsoft’s Office app for iOS and Android offers a break: children can work on paper and you can submit their work electronically.
Microsoft launched its Office app for iOS and Android in February, a few weeks before the pandemic drove us all indoors. Who knew, when my family went to work and studied away from home, that the Office app would quickly become an indispensable tool for managing daily document tasks for my children as well as myself.
Below you will find some quick tutorials on how to do things with the Office app. But it’s amazing how much it can actually do! You can take a picture of a page in a book and use the Office app to extract text automatically with optical character recognition. You can turn a photo into a PDF. You can sign a PDF that you have already created. You can take a photo of a spreadsheet and flip it that to an Excel spreadsheet or convert a document to a PDF, or vice versa. Also, do not underestimate the latest features, as PDF-to-Word conversion tools can be difficult to obtain. And of course, unlike most PDF editors we̵7;ve reviewed, all of these Office app features are free.
Use the Office app to scan your kids’ homework
Your child’s teacher has probably already told you one way to get into hand-drawn work: to use the camera on your computer or Chromebook. At our school, students are encouraged to open their Google Doc, navigate to the “Insert Image” icon in the toolbar, and take a photo from the user-facing camera. It’s simple, effective, but not always so clear.
If you want, you can use the mobile Office app to do the same, and it will look nicer. Open the Office app on Android and navigate to Actions icon at the bottom of the screen.
You see a whole list of interesting menu options. Click Scan to PDF, a somewhat confusing name.
This takes you to a fairly conventional monitor with some interesting options at the bottom. By default, “Documents” is selected. If you lay your child’s spreadsheet on a table or bed, you will see a small spooky rectangle surrounding it. This is the AI magic of the Office app at work: It will sense the boundaries of the document and customize them to make your PDF look and feel great. In other words, do not spend much time adjusting the limits of the document within the framework, because the app does it for you.
By selecting the “whiteboard” option, you can take a photo of a work of art hanging on the wall – and again, Office will do it nicely and neatly. Office will save the file as a PDF, and it will be accessible from the main screen.
Office has an option to turn an existing photo (from your camera roll) into a PDF, but all it does is turn the image into a PDF, without any of the AI clips that the app otherwise offers. I think it is simply more efficient to take a new look if the original document is available.
How to sign a PDF from your phone
If your child receives a consent agreement either via email or in person and you want to send it back electronically, the Office app also makes it easy.
Do you have a printed document? Use the “scan to PDF” function above to turn it into a PDF document.
Do you have an electronic document, such as a Word or Google Docs file? If it is a Google Docs file, save it in Word. Word files can be opened with the Document to PDF conversion tool, which is part of the mobile Office app you use.
Once you have a PDF of your file, you should see one Write a PDF under the heading Actions, under Do more with PDF files subheading.
The app opens your PDF and you select one approximate place to add a signature. Do not worry if the location is not exact. Once you have clicked on the place, a completely different window opens where you can add your signature. You can also save your signature.
Once you have entered your signature, the PDF file will reopen, with a huge overlay of your signature on top of it. Pinch and zoom the signature to shrink and fit in the space, and then save the PDF file.
To send a PDF from the Office app
On the main screen of the Office app, you can share a document (via text or email), including the PDFs you just created. But what if you need to move the file to your computer or your child’s computer to upload it? Again, the Office app has anticipated that.
The Upload files the option at the top of the Actions page takes you to transfer.office.com, a website where you will be prompted to scan a code with your phone to authenticate a transfer. Because it is web-based, you should be able to upload the PDF, whether your laptop is a Chromebook or a Windows computer. On your phone, you have to choose Send or Receive to make sure the file is moving in the right direction. Find the file in File Explorer and save it where it needs to be.
How to use your phone as an OCR to scan text
There is another fun trick that can benefit older children working from a printed textbook that needs to take notes: Turn your phone into an optical character recognition (OCR) device. We do not scan a page as your scanner would – we read and copy the text on the page.
To begin the process, go to Actions page again and select Image to text alternative. This works on a live photo or a stored image.
Office does it pretty well, but you always want to proofread it. You get better results if the page is flat and well lit.
We all try to handle the pandemic, work from home and distance education if we have children of school age. Microsoft’s Office app for Android and iOS is a convenient way to save some time and effort. Use it!