Collecting Student Work With Google Forms

This blog post originally appeared on the ProfHacker blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education on January 10, 2017.

File boxFile box

A good number of us here at ProfHacker prefer to avoid paper whenever possible. When I teach my writing course each fall, I have my students use Google Documents so that it’s easy to see an essay’s development over time.

For classes where it’s not essential that I see a student’s revisions, I prefer that essays be submitted in PDF format, so that I can comment on essays using my iPad. (My current favorite app for this purpose is PDFExpert; Jason and Erin have both made use of iAnnotate.)

What I’ve always found a bit of a bother, though, is organizing those PDFs. I’d looked around a bit, but I hadn’t found a good way to streamline the process.

Until recently, that is. Not long ago, I was checking something for a colleague in Google Forms, and I discovered a feature that apparently rolled out back in October: the ability to upload files.

This feature provides the kind of streamlined organization process I was looking for. For assignment submission, I can provide students with a link to a Google Form that contains a file upload question:

File upload questionFile upload question

If I want to ensure that students submit their essays in PDF format, I can set the question to allow only that file type:

Restrict file typeRestrict file type

The results spreadsheet will contain links to files that students upload.

What makes this feature so useful to me, though, is that Google Forms creates a folder corresponding to the form. Within that folder, it creates one folder for each question of the file upload” type. That folder, as one might expect, contains all files uploaded in response to the question.

Because PDFExpert allows me to sync particular Google Drive folders with the app, there’s nothing I need to do to organize my students’ essays once I’ve collected them via the form. I can open essays in PDFExpert and mark them up as appropriate; all of my annotations will sync with the relevant Google Drive folder. I can then return students’ work by sending each student a link to her marked essay (alternatively, I could send it to her as an attachment).

The only drawbacks I’ve discovered so far are (1) that the feature is only available to G Suite users and (2) that only users within one’s own organization can upload files. So the feature’s not available for personal accounts, or for those who have a grandfathered Google Apps for Your Domain setup. Anyone working at a campus already using Google apps, though, should be able to take advantage of the new(-ish) feature.

What about you? If you have favorite tools or methods for collecting and organizing student work, let us know in the comments.

*Lead image CC-licensed by Flickr user Becky Wetherington*()

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