GoogleDocs Forms

[This is a guest post by Thomas R. Burkholder, professor and chair of Chemistry at Central Connecticut State University. (Most important, he also maintains our renegade Moodle server!)  -- JBJ ]

While signing up for the Boxee Beta trial I came across a fairly standard web form: you know the kind with name, email address, etc.  When I was done and submitted the form, a message returned that said Thanks, don’t call us, we’ll call you.   But what caught my eye was the GoogleDocs logo and an invitation to create my own form. I clicked on the invitation and lo and behold, GoogleDocs has a form maker which puts results into a GoogleDocs spreadsheet.

Previous posts have discussed some online scheduling apps like Doodle and Jiffle and survey tools like Survey Monkey and similar survey applications.    GoogleDocs forms are both more generic and less powerful than dedicated survey tools but give most people reasonable functionality, have a much simpler interface, do not require you to have access to your own server and do not cost money.  As usual, Google has a helpful example video and help pages.

What can GoogleDocs Forms do?

Results are all linked to a single page spreadsheet in GoogleDocs and each repsonse is recorded in a single row with a time-stamp.  Results are updated automatically and reflect the current structure of the form but you may add columns and rows without changing the form.  Forms are only limited by the size of GoogleDocs spreadsheets which is 200,000 cells; a 10 question form can accomodate 20,000 responses, and you can have up to 255 questions.   Rows and columns may be added, for example to put in subtotals, but beware that moving columns containing results can cause problems.

You can create forms with variety of input choices, text box, paragraph box, multiple choice, checkboxes and drop-down menus.   Scales and Grids are available and useful for opinion surveys, etc.  There are also 71 available themes, just because.

The elements may be moved around; there’s a simple graphical interface to just click and drag items around.  There are also some labeling tools for sections and pages:

You may require certain inputs to be filled in and you can do some conditional questions which allow you to direct people to specific pages of the form based on their answer to a question.  You can customize the confirmation page and allow people to see the summary results page.

Forms may be embedded into websites or blogs or the link may be emailed.

What are the drawbacks?

The forms lack some features such as question logic and cross tabbed results that are available in the pro versions of SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang.  You will need a real spreadsheet like Excel with pivot tables (called the DataPilot in OpenOffice) to filter results by responses to specific questions.  The forms also lack the scheduling abilities and calendar import features of Doodle or Jiffle.

You will need a Google account to use documents, but why wouldn’t you?

Redeeming qualities

It’s not $20/month or $150/year and it has the basic functionality to do student feedback surveys or to allow students to collect data, observations or information using mobile technologies.   I’m imagining one of my colleagues sending her students to collect acorn density data in 10 different locations and using this form for them to get the data into a database.

[Image by flickr user helenmoverland / CC licensed]

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