Weekly course assignments can be a headache for both instructors and students. Students lament having to print them (let alone do them), and instructors lament opening several hundred emails in the course of a semester. However, there are times when such assignments are pedagogically necessary.
A friend and I both used weekly reading assignment in our history courses last semester as a way to gauge student understanding of material and develop students’ abilities to summarize and interrogate readings. Although my friend teaches high school and I was a TA at a university, our students had a communal complaint about the assignments: “I don’t have the resources to print the assignment,” which was followed up with a “Can I just email it to you instead?”
We wondered what technological adaptations would make this assignment easier for students to turn in and less of a headache for us to grade. We had several goals, including:
- Not have to individually open multiple assignments or emails (instructor desire)
- See all assignments on one page (instructor desire)
- Not have to print/eco-friendly option (student/instructor desire – as a note, all of our students have access to laptops and the internet)
- Keep a record of student performance and answers
- Meet U.S. FERPA requirements if spreadsheet is downloaded and grades kept on one secured system (university administration and instructor desire)
Google Drive’s Forms has been explored for use in academia on multiple blogs and other websites, and it seemed to solve most of our problems. We created a brief form that asked the students to answer the same open-ended questions we required in the paper assignment, and set data verification parameters to ensure the students included enough of a response or, in my case where I was trying to teach concision in summarization, to limit my students to only so many characters.
Google Forms allows you to choose from a wide array of question types based on your needs. For instance, my friend used a drop-down menu for the students to select the chapter they were submitting (see Figure 1). You can also select which questions to require or make optional. You’ll want to make sure to ask for the student’s name or email address. A time stamp is automatically recorded via Google, so you can see if a student misses a deadline. All of the responses can be recorded automatically into a spreadsheet (to select this option in Forms, select “Choose Response Designation”).
Because of U.S. FERPA regulations, which consider online systems like Google Drive an insecure format for storing or transmitting grades, we chose to download the form to a secure machine when all responses were submitted. Once downloaded, you can then create a new column in the spreadsheet to type in general comments about the student’s performance on the assignment and a grade.
From here you can create a mail-merge within Microsoft Word to return the assignment to students. (Alternatively, you can use a script within Google Drive to do the same; see http://ctl.mesacc.edu/blog/make-google-forms-results-readable/. A big thanks to Miriam Posner for posting this to Twitter!) You can also combine all submissions from one student into his/her own spreadsheet for use at student meetings or to return to the student as a package of all assignments completed.
My friend has been using this system in his high school classroom for a few weeks now with great success. Both he and his students love the ease of submitting and reviewing assignments. You can see a redacted version of what his class created here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0ApW8eaWCUzBZdEFFN1FIVktTT0cwOWk0REw1aEp0Rmc&usp=sharing
I’m also using Google Forms for self- and peer-assessments this semester. You can see a redacted version of that form here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/17VErGcMJYzi6wnVBrj33Kjr_tz3sWeL7hBBfV3zNgZk/viewform
If you’ve used Google Forms in your class, were there certain assignments that worked better or worse for yo? If you haven’t used Google Forms, do you think it would be useful for your classroom or research?
 The problem still remains of how to return students’ papers with grade and comments. My friend is less concerned because his assignment earns a “completion grade” and the comments, which he can email, are more critical. Currently, I can print mine through a mail merge and hand them back to students, but that is a less-eco-friendly option than I’d prefer. Suggestions on improvement are welcomed!
Danielle Picard is the Curb Center’s HASTAC Scholar for the 2013-2014 school year. You can find her on HASTAC.org where she blogs about the use of technology both in and out of the classroom.