Using Google Forms for Class Assignments

This post is part of the HASTAC Pedagogy Project.

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,[1] 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.

Sample Google FormGoogle 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.[2] (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?

[2] 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!

 

teperkins

do you have a campus-based equivalent?

Thanks for the post! Does your campus have an internal system that allows students to turn in assignments digitally? I am using our "e-commons" program here at UC Santa Cruz to process weekly reading assingments this quarter. I appreciate the way that it syncs into my gradebook, which is also visible to students so they can track how they are doing in the class. I also like that it lets me set and end time after which students cannot submit assignments so I don't have to check to see if they turned it in on time or not, they simply can't submit anything after the assignment closes.

If you chose to use Google Forms over your campus-based alternatives, what led you to that decision?

drpicard

Insufficient campus equivalent

Hi Tracy, Thank you for your questions! At my univeresity, we use Blackboard which has some similar abilities. However, my friend's private high school uses Google Drive exclusively. This method was nice because we didn't have to have similar campus-wide equivalents. Additionally, Blackboard does not allow you to see all answers simultaneously. It still requires you to click through or download each inidividual assignment. The benefit of using Google Forms was that I could easily see all responses at once to make sure that, in general, all of the students understood the assignment and the questions being asked. It allows me to isolate one set of responses more quickly.

Does e-commons allow you to see all of the answer simultaneously or must you still individually click/download them?

CalebW

Great Idea

I am a TA for a history class that requires each of my 60 students to write a 250 word response for 10 out of 12 weeks. This is a great idea for saving paper and streamlining my workflow. I guess my only concern is filtering yet more of life through google products. I wish our institutions could provide better tools to facilitate ideas like this.

drpicard

"Don't be evil"

Thanks for you response, Caleb. Forms seems like it would be very useful for that assignment, but I understand your aversion to giving an online entity increaasingly more control. Have you looked through the Privacy Policies of Google Drive? So far, their policies have meshed pretty well with my classroom desires; and I really like that my students don't necessarily have to sign up for accounts. The other thing I like is that the free access through Google allows smaller institutions to limit how much additional software they need to purchase.