Create Your Syllabus With a Spreadsheet and a Calendar App

In my post today, I’m going to show you how to use GoogleDocs and Google Calendar to create a dynamic calendar for a course. This calendar can be displayed as a web page or embedded in a course web site. Why would you want to do this? Well, if you’re happy with using a printed syllabus only—which is perfectly fine, of course—then there’s no reason for you to try this. However, the method I explain below is useful if you’d like a little added flexibility and efficiency when updating a course syllabus from semester to semester. Plus it’s kind of nice to have an online syllabus that will always show the immediately upcoming events and assignments for your course.

To pull this off, we’ll take the following steps:

  1. Create a spreadsheet in GoogleDocs,
  2. Add information to each row in the spreadsheet for each class meeting,
  3. Export the spreadsheet data as a CSV (“comma separated value”) file,
  4. Import the CSV file into Google Calendar, and then
  5. Make the calendar available to others.

Create a spreadsheet

You don’t have to use GoogleDocs for your spreadsheet: programs like Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers, or OpenOffice Calc will work just as well. Our goal is simply to end up with a CSV file that we can import into Google Calendar.

According to the GoogleCalendar support page on CSV files, our spreadsheet can have as few as 2 columns (“Subject” and “Start Date”) or as many as 9. You’ll need to decide which of the columns you want to include before you start adding information to the spreadsheet.

In the example below, I’m just using 3 pieces of information about each class meeting: “Subject,” “Start Date,” and “Description.” Since the course always meets at the same time and in the same place, I didn’t see much point in including such information as “Start time” and “End time” or “Location.”

Add information

For each date that the class meets, add the necessary information. You can even use HTML in the “Description” field if you’d like to link to online material such as an assignment sheet or assigned reading.

Export the spreadsheet data

Once you’ve added all the necessary information, choose “File > Download as > CSV (current sheet)” and save the file.

Import the CSV file

Now switch to Google Calendar and within your account create a calendar specifically for this course. Under “My calendars” select “Add” and provide the information in the form that appears.

Next, under “Other calendars,” click the “Add” down arrow and select “Import Calendar.” (Note that this is a different “Add” link than the one you use for creating a new calendar.)

Choose the CSV file that you saved in the step above, and select the new calendar that you just created.

If everything works as it should—fingers crossed!—you will now have a calendar with detailed information about each class meeting.

Make the calendar available to others

Of course, this calendar becomes really useful when people other than yourself are allowed to view it. Your next step is to change the calendar settings so that the information it contains is public.

Here’s a 44-second YouTube video created by Google Calendar to explain how to do so:

There are two simple ways to publish your calendar: you can find the URL (web address) to share with others, or you can embed the calendar in a web page.

Here’s a 42-second YouTube video from Google Apps that explains both of these options:

Embedding your calendar in a Google Sites page is extremely easy, as this 55-second YouTube video demonstrates:

However, you can embed your calendar in any web page, not just one created with a Google Sites account.

If you do embed your calendar in a web page, I recommend that you display your items in the “Agenda” format so that they are listed like this:

The immediately upcoming class meetings will automatically be displayed, and students can click on an individual day to see details:

I’ve used this technique in my courses before and have been pleased with the results. When it comes time to teach a particular course again, I can go back to the original spreadsheet, change the dates of the class meetings, update the other information as necessary, and then repeat the subsequent steps to have a brand-new syllabus.

What about you?

Do you have favorite syllabus hacks? Have you used Google Calendar (or another online calendar service) for your courses? Please share in the comments.

[Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user David Silver.]

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