Google Scripts – Making your life easier!

In my third post on all things Google in the classroom I thought it would be good to write a brief overview of Scripts – What they are and how you can use them to speed up your work flow. Most people that are using Google Apps For Education (GAFE) have probably heard of scripts and how people are starting to automatic some of their work, but what actually are they? Should we all be using them and can anyone write a script?

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I first came across scripts about 2 years ago when I was designing my Google site for Key Stage 3 PE home study. I was told that I could use a script to auto-mark home study when students hand it in via a GDoc. I had a bit of a play and found that I could easily set up this script called “Flubaroo” to mark a set of submitted answers based upon my pre-entered results. This was fantastic and such a time saving tool. There are some drawbacks to the script, but I will go into them in the review section. But I was now hooked on finding out what other scripts are out there that could automate some of my practices. Later in the post I will review my favourite Scripts and mention some that are in the design process as we speak!

 

What is a Script?

Google Apps Script is a script language based on JavaScript. It allows you to customize and program most of your Google Apps to do whatever you want them to do (well, within reason!). For example, you can autograde answers submitted on a Google Doc, add custom menus for Google Docs, Forms and Sheets, write custom functions for Google Sheets and you can even interact with other Google services such as Drive, Calendar, Gmail and Maps. If you have an interested in writing your own script and have a Google account head on over to the Script editor to get started. There you will find lots of help and advice as well some really good tutorials that will definitely get you started! A knowledge of Java Script well definitely set you on your way but if you have no JavaScript knowledge then go to codeacademy for a great course for beginners.

Basically, a Script is a piece of code that can allow you to automate some of your work process. It will run on the Google servers and can be edited right in your own browser!

What Scripts are currently out there?

This is a list of my own personal favourites but it is by no means an exhaustive list. Just try searching for a Script and you quickly see how many there are out there being used.

Flubaroo

My favourite and most commonly used Script is Flubaroo.

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This is a free script designed by a teacher for speeding up his own marking processing. It is really simple to use, and as long as you make sure that the answers that you want to mark are very specific then you will not have any problems. I set up Flubaroo to mark home study that was being submitted via a Google Doc. On the Sheet side of the Doc you simply install and run the script from the script gallery. It will then ask you to identify the answer key. This is basically the form that I have submitted with the correct answers on. The script then identifies these answers and will mark the other submissions based on the answer key. You can adjust the mark for each question and you have to identify what questions will give the students names. Once you have run the script it will give you a summary of the total points available, the average points scored, how many submissions you received and how many low scoring questions. This is a brilliant tool for gaining and insight into what the students have learnt and what, maybe, needs to be covered in more detail next time.

Doctopus

The next Script that I have used is Doctopus.

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As its creator Andrew Stillman says:  “It’s a way of automating document creation, revision and management, so as a teacher you can spend more time on instruction and less time on the cumbersome administrative tasks that make classrooms so inefficient.”

It basically allows you to share files electronically and automatically, saving you the time of putting each file directly into the students folders. You can choose exactly what documents you want to share and with whom. In the latest version you can even give co-teacher rights which would allow another teacher to moderate your marking or (heaven forbid) help you mark the work.

Autocrat

Another Script creation by Andrew Stillman is Autocrat.

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This is probably more well known in the education sector as it has been around longer than Doctopus. Autocrat allows you to merge personalised row based data from a Sheet and attach or insert it into a template email. I have seen this being used to great effect in a PE class where the students finish a task and submit their Google doc. The information they supplied is used to create a certificate of completion from a template which is then emailed out to the student automatically once the script has run! Imagine the time it would take to input all those names by hand and then attach them to individual emails and send them out. This script could simply save you hours of admin time. I have used it as a way of congratulating pupils when they have submitted a Google Doc. The students were really impressed that I reacted so quickly and they received a personalised certificate within minutes of running the script.

 

GClassFolders

The last Script that I am going to talk about is GclassFolders.

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This script was developed by Bjorn Behrendt and yep you guessed it Andrew Stillman. It allows you to set up a folder system in Google Drive that mirrors (in some description) the folder structure on the schoold network. It allows the user to set up classes and registers and then users this information to set up class folders. Teachers can then insert documents into either a class folder, which is editable or a teacher folder which is viewable only. For schools that are thinking about going up into the cloud then this is definitely one solution that needs to be looked at seriously. This script also plugs into gclasshub, which is a set of tools which will allow any teacher to use the scripts mentioned above already pre-populated with the students names from the gclassfolder script. The time this will save once set up correctly, especially on a school wide scale is unthinkable.

The final part of this post is going to be devoted to those teachers that that are already using scripts but can see a process that needs to be automated!

Writing your own Script

I am not (unfortunately) a script writer and am no way going to tell you how to physically write a Google Apps Script. But from someone that is in the process of planning and designing a script I am going to give you a brief account of how I am starting the planning and designing stage of my own Google Script. Firstly think big, “Blue Sky thinking” was how it was put to me. In an ideal world what would this script be able to do to reduce you admin workload? Remember it can be linked to most Google Apps and can then use any of them as well. One example that I have been thinking about is creating a email template for parents with an attached letter. The information is populated from a spread sheet that comes from a submitted Google doc. Basically the idea would be that a parent signs up for a slot a parents evening using my Google calendar and a Google Doc and an email is sent to them with the personalised letter confirming their appointment. This gives confirmation to the parent that they have an appointment with me and what time it is. As a parent myself I would be impressed with this and especially the personalised nature of the letter. But this is just one example. I would now need to find a programmer to write the code and create the script. This is currently the stage I am at with my script idea and in the next post I will hopefully have an update of how it is progressing.

 

To finish with, I would really like to thank all of the people out there that spend time and effort developing these amazing time saving scripts and then allow the rest of us to use them for free. I have already saved hours of admin time and hopefully I will be able to give something back “when” I can finally get my idea into an actual script.

I would love to hear any thoughts you have on this post and look forward to seeing your comments. The next post will be on my journey to becoming a Google Certified Individual.

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