Google Docs at the heart of Symposia Group Registration for my Animal Behaviour class

Awaiting me in Week 1 of the new semester every January is a registration exercise I run for students taking LSM1303 Animal Behaviour. This cross-faculty module sees students coming to the department from several different schools and faculties of the National University of SIngapore.

LSM1303 Project Group registration
The 2013 cohort breakdown

In order to take the module, however, students struggle to avoid clashes with time-tables. It helped that I halved the 24 hours of practical time to free up time for students to make observations of animals in the wild. They present the result of those in one of three symposia after Recess Week.

Before Recess Week, we help identify a question and settle on data collection strategy. TAs are project advisors and not supervisors and this year I will see if I can work with just three!

Students work on their projects in groups of five, but may have joined the module with only a friend or two, or three. Or they might be alone and not have friends they can recruit into a project group. Although I get them to try t form groups in the LT after the first lecture, thereafter help is a Google Form away:

The morning after the first lecture, during which I exhort them to get into groups, I examine the data and match students up: ones with fours, two with threes, etc.

Once done, I email the students their matchings. What makes this manageable is the multiple-clipboard Jumpcut which I use to copy students names and emails in bulk, out to the various emails, and Typinator which calls up standard information which is repeated in the emails. Some text editing and cleanup work is required and I like using Text Wrangler, although any text editor would be fine.

For all this to work, students must fill in their forms with the details I require very carefully – they can actually manage this after prompting in the first lecture.

I learnt to look at the data after the deadline is over. It is so tempting to watch data appearing on the Google Form’s spreadsheet but it doesn’t help the process to watch!

Of course Google Docs needs to work. There were hiccups this eek which had me worried. So I drew up a plan which had the students dil in help to form groups with paper and pencil, me scotch-taping them together in groups of fives in Lab 7.

Notification would have simply been photographs of the taped paper. It would have worked.

Well with GDocs its easier, even if less fun. Eventually everyone is notified and happy in groups with friends, and then I begin the Group Registration Exercise – another Google Form:

As you can see, I use logical, shortened URLS for all my weblinks. I mention these in the lecture, list them in IVLE and send out email notifications. Vigorous attention to the process means no admin problems later. I like not having homework!

Student queries will come in fast and furious and I have to handle these directly as its faster, and anyway I hardly need sleep until this is all done. Also, students haven’t learn to CC everyone in these situations so keeping track of that is simply more work!

As individual students struggle to stay in the module, we juggle possibilities. The flexibility and options allow some to stay with us by missing a few recorded lectures elsewhere. In the end, however, I will still lose about 10% of registered students to unrelenting time-table clashes at this point.

LSM1303 Project Group registration
The Master List tell them what’s what

After a week of waking up at 4.00am to work on these Google Docs and student queries, it is sweet to behold the plan!

The module objective I highlight to them in the first lecture comes from a conversation I had with Navjot Sodhi, the module creator with whom I co-taught the module a decade ago.

We were discussing just how much our non-biology students needed to know, when he cut in with “I just wanna teach them some empathy.”

I don’t forget.