Sunday, October 25, 2015

Google Classroom for anonymous student feedback

As I've mentioned, one of the reasons I feel that having computers in the classroom is exceptionally useful is for collecting student feedback in real time during class (e.g. using Socrative, Twitter). However, both of these tools have a shortcoming: they tend only to excel at collecting typed responses (True/False, multiple-choice, written response). With my discipline being one that also involves diagrams and visual representations, I have been dreaming of a way to rapidly collect drawn responses from students during class as a method of formative assessment: to help me understand what concepts need more practice time.

Past Failure
I've written previously on how I've started to use Google Classroom to assign and distribute exercises to students in my tablet course on genetics. My first use failed at what I was trying to accomplish: to send one exercise requiring students to draw annotations and then return them to me anonymously. My plan was to then open a few representative images and display them on the projector, in class on the same day, to engage in some group critique and analysis. However, I discovered that setting an Assignment using Google Classroom, in which I provide a PDF and have Google Classroom make a copy of that PDF and deliver it to each student registered in my Google Class, doesn't work anonymously. When the PDF containing the image I want students to manipulate is copied to each student, Google Classroom adds student names to each filename.

This is not ideal for my goal, because I'd like to be able to open my Google Classroom folder on my computer, browse through the previews to find student PDF submissions representing useful points to discuss, and then open them for projection to the class. However, if I do this in front of the class, everybody sees the student names in the filenames, and so I've lost the anonymity. Sure, I could turn off the projector (or switch inputs) while I look through student submissions, but this seems like a cumbersome process. Fortunately, a relatively easy solution is at hand: don't add the PDF activity to the Google Classroom Assignment!
  1. Set up a new Assignment, but do not attach the file here
  2. Perhaps distribute that file using another method
  3. Ask each student to attach his/her final annotated version to the Google Assignment when they Turn it In

Present Success
For example, tomorrow in class we start our section on Pedigree Analysis. To ensure that students have read the part of the textbook on the format of a pedigree (and to make the topic relevant), I will ask each student to draw the pedigree of his/her immediate family and send it to me. Now, clearly, this is not a situation in which I want any identifying information from a student to be delivered to me with their pedigree drawing (I don't want to break HIPAA or other rules, of course). So, this is what I am doing:

I used the "+" button in the lower-right to add an Assignment, and here is the window with the assignment details. I'm not providing any document (there are no attachments, which I would add with the paperclip button). Instead, I'm just asking students to use whatever drawing program they have installed on their tablets to draw the pedigree and attach it to this assignment. Then, students attach their drawings to this Assignment and submit it via Google Classroom. When I open my Google Drive folder for this Classroom Assignment, I'll see something like this:

where the file names contain no identifying information. I can easily browse through this folder (while projected to the class) and open student responses anonymously to look for points to praise and points to critique.

If I want to know which student submitted each file, I can still do that, by looking at each student's record on the Google Classroom website, but I do not need to project this view during class simply to look at the attached submissions.

Google Classroom is now an integral part of the suite of apps I use (including, Twitter, and Socrative) to foster an active-learning and engaging medium-enrollment course (75 at present) in which students hopefully feel like they can obtain personalized feedback on their understanding and also engage in peer evaluation.

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