Revisiting Google Docs

Google Docs is not a new topic here on ProfHacker. Just last week I posted about using it to write equations, and there have been many other posts on the topic on this site. What I’d like to convey in this particular post is my excitement at finding a feature, previously mentioned, which is new to me and  just so amazingly helpful.

This semester I began using Google Docs to implement the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey (CLASS), which I give at the beginning and end of science classes I teach in order to measure changes in student attitudes about science.  (Side note: if you’re in the sciences, I encourage you to check it out! It’s available for physics, chemistry, and biology.) I’d read here on ProfHacker, in passing, about using the forms functions of Google Docs, and it worked out very well to enter the CLASS into Google Docs. I liked the idea of being able to collect data over time from every administration of this survey. Keeping the data in one spreadsheet would enable me to pick and choose what data to analyze, whether it be for short-term or for more longitudinal purposes.

Life moved on happily. At the end of this semester I opened up the spreadsheet connected to the form to make sure it was in good order. Like any good ProfHacker, I poked around in the menus of Google Docs to see if there were any interesting new features. And lo and behold, there were two features, not new to Google Docs, but certainly new to me.

First, I discovered that there is a setting in Google Docs that allows you to close or open a form for receiving responses. This is extremely helpful for administering the CLASS. For example, after announcing its availability at the beginning of the semester, I give students a week to complete it, but I don’t want them to complete it after that time because I want to measure their attitudes before much instruction in my class has taken place. Closing the form for responses is needed to enforce this. It’s easy to do. Your form will accept responses by default. To stop accepting responses, select the “Form” menu and then “Accepting responses.”  The figure below is a screenshot of what you should see when doing so. Click it, and the other figures in this post, to see an enlarged version.

The checkmark next to “Accepting responses” will go away and your form will be closed. You can easily begin accepting responses at a later time as you desire by reselecting the option.

The second functionality I was excited to find was the ability to display a quick summary of responses in graph form. To see this summary, select the “Form” menu again, and then select “Show summary of responses.”

A pop-up window will show you summaries of all the data you’ve acquired. A screenshot of a few responses from my CLASS form is shown below.

(Note: if you’re interested in the results in the figure, the Likert scale used in the CLASS is 1= strongly disagree, 3 = neutral, 5 = strongly agree.)

These quick summaries were really helpful as I prepared a class lecture in which I showed the students how their responses to the questions had changed over the course of the semester. I was able to take quick screenshots of the graphs and paste them into a PowerPoint slide for use during class. Of course, I could have created graphs using tools within Google Docs, or after importing the spreadsheet into Microsoft Excel and working from there, but this would have necessitated lots of extra steps, and most certainly Microsoft Excel is not known for its ease of creating histograms, which I was wanting for this type of data presentation.

I know I’ve read about these features in the past, but they just didn’t stick with me until I discovered them for myself. Has this ever happened to you? What useful features in Google Docs or other programs have you found on your own? Let us know in the comments.

[Creative Commons licensed photo by Flickr user helenmoverland.]

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