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Why I like Google Docs so much!

Google recently made the news by announcing that it would be discontinuing some of its services, google notebook among some of them.  It’s clear that a big company like Google is not immune to the current economic times.  Predictably, many other on-line services are proposing to pick up some of the slack.

This fact, along with some comments I have made in previous posts to this blog, made me think about how much I like one of Google’s online services: Google Docs.  The part of Google Docs that I use most often is its online spreadsheet application (you can also find word processing and presentation applications too).

My first use of this service was of a personal nature.  Several years ago, one of my friends experienced a robbery where most of her family’s personal belongings were stolen from her home.  Suffice it to say that it was a difficult experience, especially in coordinating the purchase of replacement items from her insurance company.  The biggest problem was that she didn’t have a record of her major items in the home (which made it hard for her to prove to her insurance company that she had these items in the first place).  This prompted me to make a list of these items, along with their model and serial numbers.  Both the police and my insurance company told me that having this information is very helpful in processing any claim.  I made this list on my computer using a local copy of a popular spreadsheet application.  This would be helpful, as long as my computer was not stolen (yes, I make backups of my important data, you should too!).

About a year ago, it dawned on me.  I should create a copy of this list in a spreadsheet in Google Docs.  That way, my list is accessible and easily updated from any internet-capable computer.  This alone sold me on the use of this online service.

Then, a short time after this, Google added a new feature to Google Docs: the capability of making data entry forms (you know, a list of questions you can type answers to, or click on check-mark boxes, or choose radio buttons, followed by a submit button).  With Google Docs, the form will ‘dump’ the answers to these questions into a spreadsheet for you.  Once that data is in a spreadsheet, you can do just about anything with it!  My eyes opened wide, a big grin spread over my face, and I thought of a bunch of ways of incorporating this into my teaching.

Currently, I use Google Forms and Spreadsheets in three ways (I’m sure this list will expand as time goes by):

1) I have students complete simple multiple choice tests.  Their answers get dumped in the spreadsheet, and I program the spreadsheet to check their answers and calculate a score.

2) I often have students create group lab reports.  To add some accountability, I have the students fill out a peer and self evaluation form rating their contribution, and the contribution of their group members, to the creation of the group lab report.  I used to do this on paper, now I do it through a Google Form that dumps the data into a spreadsheet.  I can then easily search the spreadsheet to find all the ratings of a particular student.

3) I run two big events at my school: the Blood Donor clinics (if you are not currently a blood donor, consider becoming one!) and our school’s Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life (supporting the fight against cancer is one of my passions).  For both of these, I need student volunteers and participants.  Rather than have them sign a sheet that I tape on the outside of my door, I have them sign up electronically through a Google Form.  Once the data is in the spreadsheet, and I can sort by student name and quickly generate an alphabetical list of participants and volunteers!  It’s great for generating attendance and checklist forms, among other things!

I’ve made a really short demo form that took me no more than three (count ’em, three!) minutes to complete.  Check it out.  Then, check out the spreadsheet that holds the data dumped by this form.

Now go play with Google Docs.  You won’t regret spending that time!

If you already use Google Docs, or find an interesting use for Google Docs, I’d love to hear about it.  Simply comment to this post so that all can learn from your example!

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