Friday, 31 May 2013

Getting Stuff Done with Google Scripts

A while back Jo Gilham wrote a blog post about using Google App Scripts to automate certain process related to the university VLE. App scripts are little bits of code that are inserted into an app such as Google Docs, Spreadsheets or Forms that will trigger certain events: for example, it will send a templated email/document when certain conditions are fulfilled such as someone completing a form. I remember reading it and thinking I would love to try this but I’ve always been put off by anything that looks remotely like programming code.

But recently I really needed to automate certain repetitive admin tasks and so decided to take a look at them again and with the help of this fantastic website and this community on Google+ I felt a bit more confident that a newbie such as myself could still manage to install and use these scripts successfully.

To clarify exactly what an app script is and how you get it to function, let me take you through a concrete example from an aspect of my work:

We run a writing advisory service at the English Language Teaching Centre for distance learning students. Students can submit an extract of their writing on a templated Google Doc and a tutor then comments on it. However, the admin procedures are a bit longwinded for me and the students. They first have to make an appointment on a calendar, I need to then create a personalised template form to share with them via Google Docs. They then need to add text to the document, I check that they have added text and then re-share the document with the tutor who is going to comment on it. This can be very time-consuming if this is happening multiple times in a week.

So, I decided to use app scripts to automate some of these processes. First I wanted to find a way for students to register for the writing advisory service using a Google Form that would automatically send out a personalised email to them explaining the procedure for submitting to it. To do this I created a Form with basic registration details to fill in (name, email address etc). I then went to the Scripts Gallery on the form spreadsheet (under Tools), found a script called FormMule and installed it. This adds an extra toolbar item and it takes you through the set up procedure. 

The drop down menu for FormMule taking you through the set up
It also creates an extra spreadsheet where you can set up your personalised email template and gives you the variables you can insert into your email to fill with information that comes from the form the students filled in. 

Once this was done, any student who filled out the form was immediately sent a personalised email directing them to a website where they could submit an essay to the writing advisory service.

For the next stage I wanted students to fill out a second form when they wanted to submit a piece of writing and for them to receive a personalised Google Doc they could add their text to. Luckily there's a script called Autocrat that can do exactly this.

So I set up a Form and then installed the Autocrat script from the gallery. Again, this adds a toolbar item and you can use that to go through the set up procedure. It's a little daunting at first to understand what's going on but the set up does hold your hand through it nicely. Basically you create a Google Doc template and add fields that will be populated from information entered on the form e.g. dear <<student name >>, you requested information about <<interest one >>.

You then get various options for what kind of document you want sent (pdf or Google doc) and whether it will be editable or not. You can then use the information on the form to personalise which email address the document is sent to and whether the document will be sent automatically or not when someone completes the form.

The settings page for Autocrat where you can set up the file type, email recipient
This works fantastically well. I was doubtful that I had done the set up procedure correctly but a few test runs showed that it was working perfectly. This now means that several steps that before I had to do manually are now taken care of automatically.

I'm now looking at other aspects of my work where I could use scripts to help automate procedures and I think there are many contexts where they could be useful. Here are a few options you might want to consider yourself:

  • Using scripts to create, send and organise Google Docs to your students. This might be useful if you have regular project/essay documents to send out to students and want to automate it. There is a script called Doctopus that can do that for you, and this video will give you a walkthrough of how to use it. 
  • Create grading rubrics for work students do on a Google Doc. You can do this using a Chrome extension for the Doctopus script mentioned above called Goobric. Here is a video by Jay Atwood giving an excellent concrete example of how this might work. 
  • Creating end of class or lecture quizzes using a script called Flubaroo and have the results emailed immediately to the students. 
I am really excited by the possibility of using these scripts to help relieve the tedium of a lot of admin tasks I need to do and to free up my time to focus on the content of my work. And you really don’t need to have any technical programming knowledge to be able to use these scripts effectively if you follow the guides and watch the You Tube videos that walk you through the procedure. It does take a bit of time but I’m finding that it’s definitely worth it. I'd be interested to hear how teachers are using scripts in their work or from anyone who is thinking about using scripts in the future. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent Article. Thanks for sharing the info.



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