Google Forms is great - locked down or not
I’ve used Google Forms as a fantastic and versatile assessment tool for a number of years, and now during this lockdown period, it’s become even more essential to my teaching.
As a science teacher, I became rapidly disillusioned by the slow and often pointless process of marking. Students need quick feedback and guidance if they are going to ‘learn’ something. Much of this can be provided during the lesson they are learning the ideas in, with support from the teacher and their peers. This can be followed up with systematic practise and retrieval to encourage longer-term learning. Receiving some scrawled comments from an exhausted teacher a week after they have attempted the task would appear very limited in the actual context of learning. Humans usually forget things they see once (see Ebbinghaus forgetting curve) - so what is the value of them reading a teacher comment once? Or should students start revising the teacher comments?
Admittedly, marking is a great vehicle for producing ‘evidence’ and correcting ‘work’ - but neither of these constitute learning in my book. It’s akin to taking a driving lesson, sitting next to a silent instructor, and then receiving written feedback a week later with an “even better if you hadn’t crashed into the traffic light”. But then again, people actually have to learn how to drive, rather than just having an exercise book with ‘evidence’ they have been taught how to drive.
There is a huge variety of websites and apps with ready made questions and answers - all of which avoid the teacher-marking bottleneck. Students go at their own speed, get instant feedback on whether they are right or wrong, and often receive immediate tips on how to answer the next question better. They can also track the progress of a large number of learners, and provide teachers and parents with an analysis of stronger and weaker areas. I experienced the effectiveness of this approach first-hand watching my son learn his times-tables on his iPad. Of course these 3rd party websites and apps often have an associated cost and the content and learning sequence won’t be curated to suit everyone.
Why Google Forms?
I’ve found Google Forms to be an excellent tool to draw on the best aspects of instant feedback, automated marking, retrieval practise, insightful analysis and teacher choice of content. Firstly, it works in a very intuitive fashion, allowing the beginner to very quickly set up their first assessment. Teachers can write their own questions, or ‘borrow’ questions from other sources. Simple questions can be typed and more complex questions can be incorporated in the form of a picture or screenshot. There is a significant variety of question formats: multiple choice, tick-box, short-answer, paragraph answers, grid-tick boxes to name a few. For all formats (except the paragraph style) the correct answers can be pre-selected by the teacher - meaning that the assessment marks itself! It allows the teacher to pre-enter specific feedback based on the answer given by the student (correct and incorrect answers) - meaning the students get instant, personalised feedback. The number of marks attributed to each question is also decided by the teacher.
At the end of the assessment, and once they have clicked submit - students are instantly provided with the fully marked version, complete with their score and feedback on every question they have answered. For teachers who like to hold the results back, there is an option to release the scores and feedback later. In the event that students have given unexpected ‘valid’ answers, the teacher has the option to modify the ‘markscheme’ at any point - and the score and feedback is automatically adjusted for every student who has taken the assessment. The assessments cannot be accidentally or intentionally ‘lost’ by students as the teacher always has a copy.
One of the most interesting parts of the process is the automated analysis performed by Google Forms. It provides a summary of the overall assessment, including a nice visual representation of the distribution of scores achieved and a list of the questions students found hardest. For each question, there is an appropriate bar-chart or pie-chart showing the proportion of correct and incorrect answers.
The teacher can also select individual student assessments, or examine how a particular question was answered by the whole cohort. And all of this immediately after the assessment is finished. Assuming the assessment is done mid-lesson, the teacher has the opportunity to respond to issues before the end of the lesson. The ‘cherry on the top’ is that the full analysis can be exported as a spreadsheet - a ready made markbook.
Automated score distribution for a cohort
I’ve predominantly used Google Forms for end of topic assessments. Students typically take about 25 minutes to complete them, and I like to give myself at least 10 minutes at the end of the lesson to discuss problem questions that arose during the assessment. After the lesson, I take a closer look at each question to identify common misconceptions. Once the whole cohort has completed the assessment, I review how each question has been answered and make adjustments for the following year - not only to the tests but how the content is taught. It’s also a short job to make a few slightly different versions of each assessment for students to use for retrieval practise throughout the course.
...and during lock-down
During the recent lock-down, Google Forms has come to the rescue in a slightly different way. I’ve been running live lessons over Google Meet, and it has proved invaluable as a quick method to gauge how the lesson is going. I use a very short template Google Form to:
Question 1) Find out who has managed to access the lesson
Question 2) Find out what they think they have ‘learned’ mid lesson (in a few bullet points)
Question 3) Measure how confident they feel about what is being taught (on a sliding scale)
Question 4 and 5) - Ask a couple key questions about the content being taught that lesson
After a couple of these live lessons, I noticed I could skim down the responses very quickly and adapt the lesson accordingly. I found it so useful that I plan to use the method when things go back to ‘normal’.