Creating Custom Learning Assessment and Student Feedback Applications with Google Apps Script



Abram Anders
http://z.umn.edu/assessAPP/


Google Apps for the University of Minnesota system offers a powerful suite of tools for teaching, learning, and collaboration [1]. The Google Apps platform merges the strengths of an integrated, University wide system with the flexibility, connectivity, and collaborative potential of cloud technologies. The basic services offered through Google Apps, including Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sites, and Google+, offer a wide range of opportunities for pedagogical innovation; however, these services can be even further extended through the use of Google Apps Script . Apps scripts are small bits of programming code that can be installed and executed in any Google Doc or Google Site. Google Apps Script allows users to “automate repetitive processes and workflows” across Google services using a Javascript-based cloud scripting language [2].

This chapter offers a case study for using apps scripts to facilitate assessment of student learning and to automate the creation of student feedback reports. By the end, you will be prepared to create your very own custom assessment and feedback applications. My project website provides Google Docs templates and easy to follow video instructions for creating and adapting a simplified version of my custom assessment application.

Google Apps Script
Google Apps Scripts can be installed and activated from individual Google Docs and Sites. Apps scripts interact with a wide range of Google services including Gmail, Calendar, Charts, Docs, Finance, Maps, and Sites. Consider the following example: Imagine Mary runs a flower shop. She creates a Google Form; a form is web-based survey that reports submitted results to an associated spreadsheet. Through Mary’s form, customers respond to a series of questions that allow them to place orders for flowers, indicate a delivery date, and delivery location. With Google Apps Script, Mary could create and install scripts for her form that would automatically do any of the following:
Uses of Google Apps Script like these are being implemented by small business and large businesses alike. In one case study, the company “Dito” uses apps scripts to automate an approval workflow: an employee submits an approval request using a Google Form; a supervisor receives an automatically generated email and approves or denies the request directly in the email; the employee receives an auto-generated email notification of the supervisor’s decision; the final results are recorded in a central Google Spreadsheet [3].

The Google Apps Script site hosts a series of examples, tutorials, reference materials, and case studies for learning to program with scripts. Yet depending on previous experience, the learning curve for writing scripts can be significant. Fortunately, many apps scripts have already been created for a wide range of applications. For example, Flubaroo is a well-established apps script tool that supports “automated grading of quizzes and assignments” with integrated analytics features [4]. Educational apps scripts abound thanks to the continuing adoption and innovation for Google Apps for Education by a wide range of teachers and educational designers across K-12 and Higher Education institutions.

Perhaps, one of the most straightforward but most useful classes of apps scripts are those that facilitate mail merging. The mail merge function has long been a part of Microsoft Word and other desktop processing applications. Mail merge refers to the production of multiple documents from a template and structured data source. The mail merge function is often used to generate form letters. Recipients’ names and addresses, saved in a spreadsheet file, are merged with the letter template, saved as a word processor file. The mail merge function generates a new copy of the letter for each entry in the spreadsheet. Apps scripts for mail merging are even more powerful than traditional mail merge functions. Through integration with Google Docs and Gmail, apps scripts for mail merging can facilitate automated workflows for a variety of educational tasks including learning assessment and student feedback reporting.

Assessment and Feedback Challenges
For learning objectives not easily measured by multiple choice or true/false questions, assessment and evaluation can be time-consuming and difficult. Critical thinking, collaboration and communication skills are some of the most important but most challenging skills to teach and assess. For these skills, individualized student feedback is both essential and highly contextual. While assessment, evaluation, and feedback are incorporated into a wide variety of software applications and services, even the most robust solutions tend have limited options for individual customizability, localized integration, and discipline specific criteria.

One especially challenging and widely used communication assignment is the oral or multimedia presentation. Oral and multimedia presentations are frequently assigned across a wide-range of university courses. Evaluation criteria can vary widely depending the on the disciplinary context and learning focus. Furthermore, presentations pose unique physical and material challenges to assessment. Presentations tend to be relatively brief and evaluations require close attention to oral communication, body language, visual aids, in addition to content and organization. While making these observations, the instructor also needs to be able evaluate and record scores for overall performance and open-ended individualized student feedback.

An ideal presentation assessment application would combine the efficiency and convenience of an enterprise, mobile computing solution with the flexibility, adaptability, and disciplinary specificity of instructor-created materials. When extended by apps script, the Google Apps platform provides the foundation for modular, shareable, and customizable tools for a wide range of assessment and feedback challenges including evaluating student presentations.

The Custom Assessment and Feedback Application
My application evolved from the use of Google Forms as tools for peer evaluation and self-reflection in my Business Communications courses for the Labovitz School of Business and Economics (LSBE) at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) [5, 6]. My courses meet in a computer classroom, which facilitates the use of web-based tools during class. Google Forms can support a variety of activities. My students have used forms to complete self-reflections for in-class exercises and activities; share topics, examples, or questions for group discussion; submit responses to planning and audience analysis heuristics; and, complete both anonymous and public types of peer review.

For presentation assignments, Google Forms provide an essential tool for audience engagement and peer evaluation. Following each student presentation, the class completes an “audience poll” reflecting on the rubric criteria and evaluating presenter performance. For group presentations, the “audience poll” also evaluates overall group performance. Peer evaluations serve several pedagogical aims:
Each presenter receives both quantitative scores and open-ended comments from the audience polls for their individual and group performance. For group assignments, students also evaluate the performance and contributions of each member of their group. Peer evaluation of contributions to the group the process and final product encourages individual accountability and contributes to positive group morale. Overall, my students are more motivated and attentive during course activities and more successful at attaining course learning objectives when they give and receive peer to peer feedback.

My custom assessment and feedback application builds on these uses of Google Forms by automating the creation of reports that integrate both student and instructor feedback. In my primary case example, the instructor uses a Google Form on a tablet computer to enter and submit evaluations of student presentations (see Figure 1). The submitted results are collected and stored in the associated Google Form spreadsheet. From the spreadsheet, the instructor can review and edit the final scores and comments before using Google Apps Script to create mail-merged reports. The custom apps script merges student results with a report template and generates an email for each student with the individualized evaluation report attached as a PDF file (see Figure 2). The final report includes the results of peer evaluations (also submitted with Google Forms) in addition to instructor evaluations and comments (see Figure 3).

Ultimately, the automation and convenience of an apps script assisted workflow makes it possible to provide students with confidential, individualized feedback from multiple sources including both instructor and peer evaluations. Creating similar feedback reports manually, even with the use of Google Forms for data collection, would be prohibitively time-consuming. Furthermore, the accessibility and convenience of web-based forms makes these tools useful for a wide range of classroom, student, and instructor technology configurations including those employing mobile devices.

Figure 1: While a student presents, the instructor enters scores and records comments using a Google Form on a tablet computer (see larger image).


Figure 2: Upper window: The “Script Gallery” is accessible from the tools menu in any Google Doc. Lower window: The “Autocrat” script installs an additional menu which provides options for mail-merging spreadsheet data with a Google Docs template (see larger images).

Figure 3: The mail-merge report template combines rubric-based scores by the instructor on the first page and peer evaluation results on the second page (see the Google Doc).

The assessment rubric for my application is adapted from a rubric shared by Lisa Gueldenzoph Snyder as part of webinar presentation titled “Document Assurance of Learning in Business Communication for AACSB” [7, 8]. The rubric was created for the business school at North Carolina A&T State University following a review of Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AASCB) best practices at accredited schools and institutions. Further documentation for Snyder’s work on this rubric is available from the Proceedings of the 2007 Association for Business Communications Annual Convention [9].

Through several iterations of the application, I have employed a number of apps scripts both self-authored and adapted from the public gallery. My current implementation uses the “Autocrat” apps script created by educational technology designer, Andrew Stillman [10]. “Autocrat” is an extremely polished and user-friendly script.  It can be installed directly from the script gallery, accessible from the “Tools” menu in any Google Doc. Additional information about the script is hosted at YouPD, a peer driven professional development web community: http://www.youpd.org/autocrat [11]. The site includes a video tutorial and other documentation.

Adapt and Use the Custom Feedback Application
You can make a copy and adapt a simplified version of my custom assessment and feedback tool for use in your own courses. I have shared all the necessary materials in a public Google Collection (folder) including the Google Form assessment rubric and Google Doc report template. The collection also includes step-by-step video instructions for copying the templates, installing the apps script, and running the mail merge to create and send feedback reports. You can access the video instructions and collection materials at this address: http://z.umn.edu/CREATEassessAPP/ [12].

While my custom assessment and feedback tool is designed for multimedia presentations, the rubric and report template could be revised or even completely rewritten to reflect other evaluation criteria or learning objectives. For further information, my blog hosts a “prezi” slide presentation and video overview discussing the evolution of my assessment and feedback tool through several iterations and uses of different individual scripts. The video and slideshow are available at this address: http://z.umn.edu/assessAPP/ [13].

Future Directions
My plan for continued development of Google Apps Script applications addresses LSBE Strategic Plan goals for improving student learning for communication and collaboration skills [14]. In the initial phase of my project, I plan to create a series of peer-review and instructor evaluation rubrics for communication and collaboration learning tasks and assignments. These rubrics will be publicly shared as a resource for LSBE faculty. Each rubric will have integrated custom assessment and feedback applications like the one described in this chapter. The rubrics will be shared as Google Form templates with associated apps scripts and report templates enabling automated mail merge reporting functions. Use of these tools will facilitate refined evaluation and assessment of key learning objectives while also providing support for pedagogical “best practices.”

In the second phase of the project, LSBE Technology Program staff and Management Information Sciences (MIS) students will be enlisted to help create additional script-based functionality. For example, scripts could be created to collect usage statistics from the shared assessment and feedback applications. When an instructor would use an evaluation rubric-form and execute the reporting script, the script could also report usage statistics for the application and anonymous data for student learning outcomes. The data generated from rubrics and assessment applications could be hosted in central spreadsheets and contribute to course and school-wide learning analytics and assessment initiatives. The evolution and quality of student learning around communication, collaboration, and other targeted and measured skill sets could be monitored via real-time learning analytics data feeds powered by apps scripts and hosted on a Google Site.

Tools and applications created for Google Apps can be shared, adapted, and further developed in any number of novel directions. Through Google Apps Script, the Google Apps infrastructure can be the foundation for open education and open innovation that moves beyond the development of open content. Practically speaking, open innovation tools like Google Apps Script mean that the efficiency, convenience, and power of cutting-edge technologies can increasingly be informed and directly shaped by the disciplinary expertise and needs of individual instructors, researchers, and programs. Through user-friendly coding and application development tools, the technological interfaces through which we work and learn are becoming ours to engage and transform.

References
[1] The University of Minnesota. “Google Apps for the University of Minnesota.” Accessed May 17, 2012. http://www.oit.umn.edu/google/.

[2] Google. “Google Apps Script.” Accessed May 17, 2012. https://developers.google.com/apps-script/.

[3] Webster, Steve. “Approval Workflow using Apps Script.” Google Apps Developer Blog. Last Modified April 17, 2012. http://googleappsdeveloper.blogspot.com/2012/04/approval-workflow-using-apps-script.html.

[4] “Flubaroo.” Accessed May 17, 2012. http://www.flubaroo.com/.

[5] Labovitz School of Business and Economics. Accessed May 17th, 2012. http://lsbe.d.umn.edu/.

[6] University of Minnesota Duluth. Accessed May 17th, 2012. http://www.d.umn.edu/.

[7] Snyder, Lisa Gueldenzoph. “LinkedIN Profile.” Accessed May 17th, 2012. http://www.linkedin.com/pub/lisa-gueldenzoph-snyder/12/2a5/6a6/.

[8] Snyder, Lisa Gueldenzoph. “Documenting Assurance of Learning for AACSB.” Webinar presented for the Pearson Business and Technology Events Series, February 22, 2011. http://btevents.pearsonhighered.com/business-events/webinar-documenting-assurance-of-learning-for-aacsb/.

[9] Gueldenzoph, Lisa E. “Documentation Methods for AACSB Learning Assurances.” Proceedings of the 2007 Association for Business Communication Annual Convention, ed. Catherine Nickerson. (Washington, D.C.:  Association for Business Communication. 2008). http://businesscommunication.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/10ABC07.pdf.

[10] Stillman, Andrew. “Google+ Profile.” Accessed May 17, 2012. https://plus.google.com/114670488345865665282/about/.

[11] Stillman, Andrew. “autoCrat Document Merge Script: So You Don't Have to be the Bureaucrat!” NewVisions for Public Schools. Accessed May 17, 2012. http://www.youpd.org/autocrat/.

[12] Anders, Abram. “(CC+) Custom Assessment Application Templates.” Last Modified June 1st, 2012. http://z.umn.edu/CREATEassessAPP/.

[13] Anders, Abram. “Creating Custom Learning Assessment and Student Feedback Applications with Google Scripts.” Last Modified May 30th, 2012. http://z.umn.edu/assessAPP/.

[14] Labovitz School of Business and Economics. “Five Year Strategic Plan FY 09-13 and Progress Report on 2002 Strategic Plan.”



  

Abram Anders <adanders@d.umn.edu>
Abram Anders is an Assistant Professor of Business Communications in the Labovitz School of Business and Economics at the University of Minnesota Duluth. His research interests include business communications, educational technology, new media, open source, and rhetoric. Examples of his research and teaching are available at http://www.d.umn.edu/~adanders/.