I use mid-semester evaluations to get student feedback not only on my teaching, but on their preparedness and engagement in the course. I find that students often have constructive advice about improvements I could easily make (“more discussion,” “more group activities”) and can be quite introspective about their own performance in the class (“I should speak up more during discussions,” “I need to do more of the reading”).
I find the course evaluation forms used by most institutions are frequently full of questions that don’t make sense for the courses I teach and don’t provide me with information about areas where I could improve. Students often fill out the Likert-type questions but leave the open-ended comments section blank. By asking students to evaluate the course mid-semester and by using my own survey instrument of open-ended and course-specific questions, I can collect important feedback and incorporate it into the second half of the course, rather than finding out at the end of the semester that my lecture slides were unhelpful, that my office hours were inconvenient, or that my favorite tweed teaching blazer is highly unfashionable and should never again leave the darkness of my closet.
This semester I discovered Google Forms, which is part of Google’s suite of online collaborative tools that are connected to the Google Drive service. Other tools include Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Drawings, and Presentations. Think of it like Microsoft Office plus a cloud storage system, all coordinated through your Google account and with the capability to have multiple collaborators editing and sharing the documents. Google Forms allows you to design your own online survey, which can include closed- and open-ended responses, anonymous participation, and easy, digitized data collection. In short, it’s perfectly suited to course evaluations.
You will need a Google account to create and save your form and to access the responses, but survey respondents do not need a Google account to view or respond to your survey.
The excellent functionality of this tool is not immediately apparent. I had to fuss with it a little bit to figure out how to make it work the way I wanted, but that might also be because I never read instructions – there could very well be a comprehensive how-to guide in there somewhere but, pfft, who has time for that?
When you pull up Google Forms, it will present you with a blank form, ready for customization. The first section has three “form settings” options: Show progress bar at the bottom of form pages, Only allow one response per person, and Shuffle question order. I initially selected “Only allow one response per person,” but later discovered that this option requires that survey-takers log in through their Google account. I wanted students to be able to fill out the form anonymously and without signing up for anything, so I went back in and turned this option off.
The next section is where you start building your survey. There are boxes to edit the form title and description. Then you can start building your survey items. I kept my form simple: I wanted to know what I was doing well and where I needed improvement, and I also wanted my students to identify what they were doing well and where they could improve.
“Question title” is where you can enter your question text, so I typed “What do you enjoy about this class?” In the “Help text” box, you can enter any clarifying information about how you would like this question answered. I just wrote “Please be specific!” I wanted open-ended responses, so in the “Question type” menu I selected “Paragraph text.” This option provides the survey respondent with a text submission box. The “Text” question type only provides the respondent with a single-line submission box, so it would be better suited to answers requiring only a few words. Other question types include multiple choice and checkbox formats, and you can also use the “Go to page based on answer” option to include contingency questions. There is also a “Required question” option – checking this means that survey respondents will not be able to submit the survey without answering the question. I checked this option for each of my four items.
When you’re finished with each question, just click “Done” and the website will automatically bring up the same options for Question #2, Question #3, and so on.
The final section of the page allows you to configure what your survey respondents see when they finish the survey. I left the submission confirmation text as it is and made sure the three options below (Show link to submit another response, Publish and show a link to form results, and Allow respondents to edit responses after submitting) were unchecked, because I didn’t want students submitting multiple responses or having access to the survey results.
Once everything is set the way you want it, click “Send form.” You will be provided with an option for sharing the form. You can email it to students right from this page or copy and paste the provided link into an email, put it on a Powerpoint slide, or distribute it in any other way you see fit.
To return to your survey to edit it or view responses, you need to visit your Google Drive account. This was confusing – I initially tried to go back to Google Forms but it would just take me to a new, blank form, and I couldn’t figure out how to access my survey or view the results. Eventually I found it saved in my Drive account. From there, I could open up the form and edit it (which I did, to turn off the “Only allow one response per person” option), view a summary of your results, and export your results into a spreadsheet. My survey was anonymous, so entries were identified by a timestamp.
After your survey has “gone live” and you’ve sent the link to your students (I included mine with instructions for their weekly reaction essays), you can check back to view your responses. As I mentioned, you’ll need to go into your Google Drive storage area to pull up the form again. Once you’re back in the form editor, you will see a “Responses” drop-down menu. From this menu, you can turn off your survey so that it will no longer receive responses, and you can view a summary of your responses or download them into a spreadsheet. You can also “Delete all responses.” The summary of my responses looked like this:
You can also have your responses sent into a Google Spreadsheet, which may be useful for those who wish to download the file to their desktops.
This tool made creating, disseminating, and reviewing my mid-semester evaluation results very easy and hassle-free. My evaluation results were very helpful and I have already made some plans to improve my course for my current and future students. I’m excited to continue using Google Forms for evaluations and other classroom activities – for example, I intend to show this tool to my Research Methods class to help them create and administer their own surveys.