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.


8 Responses

  1. I totally agree!

  2. I just tried this in my class last night & it was fun! Pretty helpful to see what the students were doing. Once they had their numbers and the link to the Doc they pretty much got going on filling it out. This has tons of potential, so thanks for a great model!

  3. It also gets easier to instruct and respond to the student entries the more you do it. I found that I expended a ton of energy in all the multi-tasking required the first time, but it really starts becoming easy and well worth the effort the more times I’ve done it. Thanks for being adventurous and trying it out, Shana!

  4. Shannon, very intriguing. We use Gdocs a lot at my institution, but no one has ever suggested this use, as far as I know. I’m a little unclear about one thing: do students fill out the form as you’re demonstrating, or is this the last part of class when they are completing some exercise you’ve designed, or . …? Also, is it frustrating for them to go back and forth from the gdoc to the database, etc.? Thanks.

  5. Richard,

    Good questions! What I generally do is model a behavior, (searching the catalog for a book), and then ask them to do the same and fill in the corresponding columns. When I ask students to locate a book in the catalog, I follow that up with then finding it physically in the stacks -we are in the library building, after all.

    As far as toggling between a few screens, I do explain that they will have to do that. At the beginning of class I ask them to open 2 browsers, one with the library homepage, and the other with the tinyurl for the google doc. It can be rather complicating when I’m teaching with a powerpoint and toggling, as well, but it gets easier with more practice. Since we have double screens in our classrooms, I usually keep the powerpoint, or library homepage up on the overhead screen, while the google doc is on another computer screen that the students don’t see -they will have it up on their own screens after all, and then they don’t know whose entry I’m looking at.

    I usually have one or two students that have trouble typing in the URL, but even when I had an older student explain to me that she was bad with technology, it seemed that once she was able to get to the page, it was easy for her start filling in the information.

    I’m also finding that once you’ve modeled something once, the students that are more advanced, may attempt to start filling in the sheet. After modeling a few behaviors and showing them them locations, I often ask them to go ahead and answer the questions on the rest of page -and they are then working at their own pace and I can attend to individual students.

    It takes a bit of getting used to and trial and error, but it defintely dazzles the profs.

    Have fun!

    • Shannon,

      OK, I experimented in a class last week. Used a tinyurl, and everyone accessed the spreadsheet without a problem — but no one could edit except for those students with Macs using Safari. Have you ever encountered that? Doing a quick search in Gdocs forums/help, it seems that the inability for a group of people to edit (even with the correct sharing privilege) has been an issue in the past. Frustrating — so close! Any hints?


      • Richard,

        I admit that I have never had that problem once I had my settings correct.. Let’s make sure your settings are 100% correct. You must make sure to check the box to “allow anyone with the link to edit.” That box appears at the bottom of the screen only after you’ve clicked the radio button to share with “anyone with the link.”

        I have had moments of panic where everyone is typing and nothing appears on the screen, only to go back into sharing privileges and realize that while allowing anyone with the link to see the document, they could not edit it.

        Let me know if that was the problem, and check out my, “Best Practices Page,” (linked in the article), for more help.


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