Friday, 7 August 2015

Using Google forms and docs to improve engagement and feedback, by Mark Davys

The approach taken
The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is designed to enable graduates with non-law degrees complete the academic stage of professional qualification and to be able to progress to the vocational stage of training to be a solicitor or barrister in England and Wales. At Keele, GDL students take some modules alongside undergraduates who have already been studying law for one or two years, so the pre-semester 1 English Legal Systems and Legal Method (ELSLM) module introduces GDL students to the law and gives them an opportunity to begin to practise some of the legal skills that they will need to successfully complete the programme.

Various skills and tools for legal research are introduced during the ELSLM module. Until 2014-15, the module also included a ‘Skills Exercise’ introduced and completed in a single day. Students were given a series of tasks to complete before returning to class for a plenary session. Whilst reflecting on this format, the teaching team identified a number of weaknesses, including: (1) some students finished quickly, and were left waiting for the plenary session to start, whilst other students would have benefited from having more time to complete the exercise; and (2) feedback in the plenary session tended to be general, rather than specific (whilst students could usefully reflect on their experience afterwards, there was not time to check individual work and give specific feedback within the day allocated for the exercise).

It was decided, therefore: (1) to issue the Skills Exercise in the form of a Google Document on the KLE at the beginning of week 2 of the 4 week teaching programme; and (2) to require students to complete a Study Skills Assessment at their convenience on Thursday or Friday of week 3 of the programme.

The Assessment was prepared using Google Forms and released by posting a link on the KLE. Some questions were multiple choice; others required text of varying length. Some questions asked students to repeat the information they had discovered as part of the Exercise; others required them to analyse or process this information to reach an answer.

After the assessment was completed, each student was sent an electronic copy of a document containing their answers, suggested answers and some general feedback. Reflection on this feedback formed part of a later teaching session.

The advantages
(1) Students were able to spend as long as they needed on the exercise, where they wished. It was, therefore, closer to what they would experience when undertaking research as part of a substantive module or after their GDL.

(2) Students were required to reflect on the information they had gathered and consider how to use it, rather than just record it.

(3) The use of Google Forms enabled individual student responses to be conveniently recorded, read and accessed by staff and the individual students themselves.

(4) Presenting the students with their answers alongside suggested answers and general feedback enabled informed reflection by students and staff before the feedback session.

The disadvantages
Neither Google Forms nor Google Sheets (used to automatically compile the answers) support discrete use of italics. Italics are used in a specific way when citing case names, so this meant that it was not possible to conveniently model or test this aspect of referencing.

Key recommendations
The information gathered by the Google Forms that students submit is compiled into designated Google (spread-) Sheet. With very small cohorts the information could simply be cut and pasted from the Sheet to provide individual feedback to individual students. In most cases, however, it will be better to use some sort of automatic ‘mail-merge’ into a standard template. This requires a Google Add-on, such as ‘autoCrat’. When using autoCrat, a little care needs to be taken to ensure that the names of the merge fields are sufficiently short and discrete (the full text of the questions tends to be too long for this purpose), but otherwise it is relatively easy to set up and deploy.

Creative Commons License
Using Google forms and docs to improve engagement and feedback by Mark Davys, Keele University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.