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By Eric Eslinger
Program Officer, Educational Technology, Knowles Science Teaching Foundation

December 10, 2013

Many websites try to get short response survey answers from their users: “How amazing is our customer service, on a scale from potato to amazing!??!” Educators do this too, except they tend to call these things quizzes or exit tickets (and they’re sometimes analog instead of online).

There are a lot of ways for teachers to get forms distributed to students and then get responses back, but one of my favorites (unsurprisingly) is Google Forms. It integrates with the rest of your Google lifestyle, and has built-in support for Google Apps Script. Let’s start with a simple form:

Example form (link)

An important caveat here: with regular Google Forms, you do not capture anything about the person responding. To remedy this issue, you should probably create an extra question that asks, “Who are you?” If you use a Google Apps Domain (many schools do, nowadays), you can automatically capture users within that domain.

Once you have a form and collected some data, that data gets funneled into a spreadsheet created on your behalf. You can open it up and see as people enter their responses in your form.

Now, the magic has begun. Up until this point, you may be thinking, “Sure, I have some responses from my students. Big deal, what next?” The big deal is that you don’t just have responses from students, you have responses in a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets have all sorts of fabulous data analysis tools, and as we will see in a future blog post, you can even write little mini-programs to run on your spreadsheet. For now, let’s look at conditional formatting.

Select a column that represents answers with a clear right-or-wrong (not all of your questions will, I’m sure, but some will), and then in the format menu, select “Conditional Formatting.” There, you can define a rule that represents correct or incorrect, and format your cells accordingly.

In the case above, the right answer for (14 + 6) % 7 is 6, so I set the formatting rule to say anything without a 6 in it is wrong. If you had a few multiple-choice or numeric response questions, you could use conditional formatting to highlight the wrong answers. Then in a column off to the right, you could type feedback to your students right into the spreadsheet.

Later, you copy-paste this feedback into an email, and presto: you still have a copy of the annotated responses your students gave to your exit ticket, they have a copy of the feedback you gave them, and no amount of messy knapsack black-hole entropy will make it so this information gets lost.

In a future blog, I’ll cover how to make this process even more automatic: you can write little scriptlets that will do things like give canned feedback to students based on the answer they give, and collate and email the feedback directly to your students with a press of a button.

In closing, I want to address two major issues that may be bothering you right now. The first issue is that of the form of these questions: yes, I’m talking about tools to make your multiple-choice questions easier to administer, and no, I’m not a really big fan of multiple-choice questions. I love questions that are big and meaty and engaging and don’t really have a right answer, or are at the very least aren’t machine-gradable. We all love these kinds of questions, I think, but there is room in a teacher’s toolbox for short- and closed- questions, as long as you don’t go overboard with them. Short quizzes and smaller assignments can be used with precision, and in conjunction with bigger assessments, to create an embedded, authentic, and formative assessment environment (while buzzwordy, those three adjectives are really important to me).

The other issue some of you might be raising is: why not just use Doctopus? That does all you really want with forms and grading and stuff. My feeling along those lines is a call-back to my first blog post. Yes, I like Doctopus a lot, and in a lot of situations, I would suggest that a teacher use it. However, in here, we want to start taking apart the notion of a computer as a delivery mechanism for interesting stuff other people create, and put it back together as something we create ourselves. So, for this series of posts, we may well mirror Doctopus’s development, but that’s not a bad thing. By the end of the series, we’ll know how it works inside and out, and when there’s a little feature we wish our computer had, we’ll know how to build it ourselves.

Stay tuned for more on forms and apps scripting!

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