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DIY Observations With Google Forms

By LeaderTalk Contributor — March 19, 2009 3 min read

When I received an HP iPAQ several years ago, I immediately began wondering how I might be able to use it to improve classroom observations. I was in a school improvement leadership position at the time that required me to collect data from classroom observations, and this was a difficult process with the traditional pen-and-paper methods we were using at the time. The administrators on campus were used to using printed observation forms that did not allow for easily accessible data. Documentation was also not uniform, which made proper data collection nearly impossible at the time.

I played around with the use of an open-source survey package installed on my own server and found that the survey form it generated was very easy to view and complete in the browser of my iPAQ. However, I was the only campus administrator at the time with an iPAQ. Times have changed and now most of the campus administrators that I know have some type of mobile device that allows them to view some web-based tools through a browser installed on the device. My BlackBerry Curve works as well if not better than my old iPAQ when it comes to viewing web pages.

I now work as a district-level administrator and one of my responsibilities involves working with and supporting a large network of campus-based Literacy Coaches. Our district has made a commitment to improving the quality of literacy instruction at all levels, and with this commitment comes a certain amount of monitoring. That translates to classroom visits.

One of the solutions that I am currently working on for this is the use of Google Forms to create an easy-to-use walk-through form that can be accessed through any mobile device. Not only is this solution a wonderful alternative to printed forms for collecting and analyzing data (it all goes directly into a spreadsheet where the data can later be sorted, disaggregated, and analyzed very easily), it also allows for a great deal of flexibility. I am not stuck with one form forever. If for some reason we decide we only want to target one specific literacy area or strategy, a form can be created quickly and easily that allows us to concentrate on the one specific area for as many observations as we need at that time.

How easy is this to do? Here are the steps:

1) Create a Google Docs account if you do not already have one.

2) Under the “New” menu, select “Form.”

3) Give your new Form a title (and any explanatory text if needed) and begin entering your questions. Response options allow for short text (names, course titles, sections or time periods), paragraph text (for open-ended narratives of observations), to multiple choice (for observations rubrics or a continuum -- I prefer not to use the term “checklists”).

4) After you have created all of the questions you want on your form, click on the “save” button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.

5) Click “See Responses” and select “Spreadsheet” to go directly to the Google Spreadsheet where the entered data can be manipulated later.

6) In the Spreadsheet View, go to “Send Form” to email the new Form to yourself (or to other members of the team who will be conducting the walk-throughs).

7) Check your email through your mobile device and click on the first link in the email from your Google Form. This will open the browser on your device and take you directly to the form.

In order to use the form multiple times for multiple observations, you can use your mobile device’s “back” button (too many options on too many devices for me to explain which button it might be on your device -- consult your device manual), and this should bring you back to the form page after data has been entered. If the old data is showing on the form, simply type over it and resubmit to enter the new data. If you don’t think this method will work, try it with sample data in your computer browser first and watch the new data appear instantly in the Google Spreadsheet.

I think it is important to stress that I DO NOT recommend this as an option for coaching walk-throughs. This is simply a quick, easy, and free solution to collecting classroom observation data for a variety of data review & analysis purposes.

Many of you may already have a mobile solution for collecting walk-through data, however, some school districts (or schools) are not able to purchase existing packages from vendors. For those schools and districts that do not already have a solution, this may be a viable option for collecting this valuable data.

What other free, DIY solutions have you discovered for performing daily activities?

Stephanie Sandifer
Blog: Change Agency
Author of Wikified Schools

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