Guest Post: Using Google Docs for Real Time Assessment

So, assessment is this really big deal in what seems like every aspect of the academic library these days. How are the students using the catalog? How are they using the website? How are they using the library space? Are the librarians approachable? Do they like the coffee? etc. etc… I would venture to say that library sessions come in somewhere at the very top of that list.
That said,  I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of talking about any kind of assessment.  Okay, or even just thinking about assessment for fleeting moments. And just the idea of talking and thinking about assessment at the same time makes me feel a little alone inside. But, of course, I really do want to know how I’m doing. I truly do. I like to think I’m not just standing up there for my health and that students may actually leave my sessions a teensy tad wiser. But, how am I to know that?
Enter: Google Docs! I’ve used them for my own personal projects for a while, but when I started hearing rumors of my colleagues using them in the classroom I was intrigued. One librarians is creating a sort a word DOCUMENT and asking the students to work in groups and fill in information as they find results. Some are creating a Google doc FORM for students to fill out at the end of class to assess the library session. (There are 97 pretty templates to choose from! Who knew!) They are quick and dirty to create and result in a spreadsheet of data to review right after the session. They are neat and organized and just begging for publication. So we actually have a nice array of uses in our library at the moment. Here’s an example of a the form I created in about 5 minutes using a template.
But, WHY have we all so suddenly jumped on this Google Doc bandwagon? I will tell you my two biggest most favorite reasons why. 1. They are FREE. (Love.) and 2. You can have multiple simultaneous users at once.  Let me break that down. As long as everyone has access to the web and a computer, (a pretty standard library instruction classroom),  50 users, can all work on the same document at the same time and, if you want, watch everyone’s changes as they make them. It’s a beautiful thing.
I’m really excited about the way I’ve started using them in class. When my wheels got turning, I decided I wanted to create a spreadsheet that students would have to fill out as I was going through different sections of the instruction session. What I found was a great way to watch the students work and process the information I was dishing, IN REAL TIME. Since most of us only get that one-shot, watching the students work and process in the moment, is ridiculously helpful. This allowed me to not only see their thinking, but also to correct or make suggestions in the moment, as well.

I give each student a number at the beginning of class. The number is the row they use to fill in the information from the above column. (Trust me when I say that things can get very complicated if you skip this step.)  I always pre-fill the second row with model answers. I created a best practice top ten list you can follow if you would like to create one. I could go on, but let me just say, that it’s super easy to do and I believe best learned by doing. Here’s an example of one of the first classes I conducted. I’ve tailored my instruction to accommodate what I’ve seen from the results. I encourage you to try it just once to see its merits. Enjoy!

Shannon Simpson is a 2009 graduate of Kent State with a Master in Library and Information Science. She spent a year and a half in a Residency at Towson University’s Cook Library, and was offered and accepted the hybrid position of Research Instruction and Special Collections Librarian in January 2011. She is the Art+Design liaison and while teaching instruction classes for various art classes is also working on building an oral history project for a Baltimore city neighborhood. Shannon blogs regularly at The Baltimore Bookie.