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How Do I.... (a Practical Guide to Administration tasks)

Apps Script

Use Apps Script to improve processes

Apps Script is a programming language based on a computer language called JavaScript. It offers a means to extend the capabilities of Google Workspace applications, enables them to interact with each other and to automate tasks that need to happen on a regular basis.

Apps Script is based on a computer language called Javascript, which is used extensively throughout the web, so the coding principles have a wider application.

Ways to use Apps Script

Automation of processesGoogle Apps Script icon

Here are some examples of the processes that can be automated using Google Apps Script:

  • Turn Spreadsheet information into Calendar invites
  • Create a button to archive spreadsheet data
  • Automated emailing within a process
  • Auto-check dates in a spreadsheet and send an email when expired
  • Create documents from Google Form submissions
  • Bulk creating Google Drive files and folders
  • Teaching and Learning run an an Apps Script course, if you are interested keep a look out on the Digital Skills Training page.

    Transcript -Emma Simmons

    Case Study: Using Apps Script to improve ProcessesSpeech Bubble image

    Emma Simmons - Law

    Emma Simmons is the undergraduate administrator in the York Law School. She looks after administrative processes related to undergraduate students. In this recording she talks about the portfolio process that is followed for the submission of student's work in her department and how, with the use of Apps Script, they streamlined the process.

    This case study showcases an advanced solution that Apps Script provided to a problem, it would take an experienced Apps Script programmer to achieve it but it does highlight the potential of the tool.

    Listen to the "Using Apps Script to improve processes" case study:

    Transcript: Using Apps Script to improve processes case study

    Interviewer: Hi Emma, thank you coming in to talk to us about Google Apps Script today and how it's improved certain processes at the York Law School. Firstly could you tell me a little bit about yourself what is your role at the university?

    Emma: Thanks . I'm the undergraduate administrator in the York Law School. I've been there for about 8 years now and I basically look after all the administrative processes related to undergraduate students. So once they arrive, they’ve kind of become my responsibility so anything like assessments and timetabling and all that kind of thing.

    Interviewer: Ok, great. So specifically you’re going to talk to us about portfolios. Can you explain to me what portfolios are and how they’re used in the Law School?

    Emma: Yes. So portfolios are a type of assessment that we use and are coursework-based and we use them for four core modules across years one and two at the moment. The Portfolio Assessment requires students to write a reflected analysis that needs to address the learning outcomes for the particular module that they’re studying at that time. And they’re also required to attach documents as evidence to support their writing. The students are expected to demonstrate their knowledge and their application of models and theories and also to evaluate and reflect on their own personal learning experience and how they might develop that moving forward. The students link different evidence documents to their written analysis which they use to help demonstrate that they’re meeting the learning outcomes that they set out to achieve in their reflective analysis. And they can link as many different items of evidence as they want to.

    Interviewer: That's interesting. Could you tell me what the motivation was for redeveloping the portfolio process?

    Emma: Yes. Initially it was largely related to file sizes and technical issues. Because these portfolio assessments require students to be linking documents of evidence to their written analysis there were problems with VLE submissions because of the file size restrictions for individual submissions that are embedded within the VLE. That meant it was difficult for students to select which documents they wanted to include because the file size wouldn’t enable them to include everything and it was also very difficult for the students to specifically link statements into their analysis for their supporting evidence. An alternative would’ve been to ask students to intersperse their written analysis with the evidence documents but that made it very difficult for the markers to follow the written narrative of the analysis. And the combined document, whichever way you did it was very bulky and quite difficult to work with.

    Interviewer: Right, OK. So how did using Google App Scripts change the portfolio process?

    Emma: It's made it a lot more streamlined because everything's within Google, the students are sent out a link to a Google form and they write their written analysis within that form. And there’s also a link within it that they use to upload their evidence documents. They can use the Google app to highlight passages of text within their written analysis and link specific individual evidence documents to that as well so it’s a lot easier for them, it’s all within one document and once they’ve selected which passages to highlight and which evidence document to link they use that to show how they’re meeting the learning outcomes that they need to do.

    Interviewer:, and what did this improve for staff? So for administrators and for academics?

    Emma: For academics, it’s made it a lot easier for them to mark work. The written analysis is a lot more streamlined, a lot more easier to follow because they are able to just click on a link and quickly have a look and see if the evidence document meets the written analysis that the student is referring to in their text. Because of the way students put their work together, the students are able to make clearer distinctions between their reflection on their work and the evidence of what they actually did and that’s helped the markers to focus on key elements of the assessment criteria as well. For administrative staff, because everything’s done within the Google Apps Script there is no need for them to download anything at all. Everything stays within Google. Admin staff simply allocate the mark as a list of student names and give them access to a submission folder within Google. Feedback for the students is given on the assessed copies that the students submit and that is also returned to students just by clicking a link within the app.

    Interviewer: Great, it seems pretty simple and straightforward. Do you think as well as improving things for staff, do you think this change in the portfolio process enhances the student experience?

    Emma: I think so. I think it's made it a lot easier because everything’s within one single Google document. All the functions required for the completion and submission of the assessment are within the same place, the writing, the analysis, the uploading, the documents, and the highlighting and the linking tool as well has helped them to concentrate on how best they might actually link the evidence to what they’re writing and provide a more persuasive analysis of their own personal reflective learning. And also the fact that the students are receiving their feedback through Google as well and their comments and highlighted points by the markers on their actual submitted script is really beneficial for them because it helps them to see and understand much better where they went wrong and what they might improve on. Annotated scripts is always one of those things that students say to us “this is what we want”. So using this Google Script App, it actually means we can give them that for these assessments.

    Interviewer:I’m assuming you’d recommend other university colleagues consider using Google Apps Script for this type of process?

    Emma: Yeah, I would say so. I think so any process that requires linking of documents to written piece of work this system has worked really well for us and I would recommend it. We have had a few teething problems but the system is continually being worked on and improved as we've identified things that could have worked better but on the whole worked really good. I've mentioned already that students really like getting their annotated work back because it's so much easier to understand how their feedback is relevant to them but I think that the markers have also found it quite straightforward to use. I would recommend that if any department do want to look into developing something like this they have a clear idea exactly what they need for the end user requirements at all levels; staff, students, administrator. But also provide clear statement assessment marquee marking so that's something can be developed that meets their needs.

    Interviewer: OK. And as well as this portfolio process improvement, are there any other pieces of work that you’ve been doing in this kind of area? Using Google apps or similar tools?

    Emma: Yeah, we’ve been looking at using Google for a couple of other things recently. Firstly because we now have assessed contributions for some of the problem-based learning workshops that the students attend in the first and second year, we need to give the students much more constructive feedback on how they’ve performed within those workshops and we’ve been using a system through Google Forms for that. This is the first year we’ve used it but it seems to be going fairly smoothly. The staff that are providing it, they’re feedback, seem to be finding it fairly easy to use and it just emails the student a copy of their feedback which we can then also save in their student file. So that’s been really good. We’re also in the very early stages of looking at how Google might be used to improve attendance monitoring for students and obviously that’s a big issue for everybody so if we can get that to work it would be fantastic. We are just in the early discussion stages of that at the moment.

    Interviewer: They both sound really interesting pieces of work. So one last question from me, who should people contact if they have further questions about the work that you’re doing in the department?

    Emma: I’d be happy for people to contact me in the first instance. Some of my academic colleagues might be better placed to answer certain queries but I’ll be happy to pass on anything that I can’t deal with.

    Interviewer: That’s great! So thank you Emma for taking the time to out to share what you’ve been doing with Google Apps Script in the Law School. I’m sure people will find this case study really useful.

    Emma: Thank you.