Remote Teaching Tools: Random Call List Google Sheet

With the rapid transition to remote teaching that came with Washington’s “Safer at Home” measures, I’ve been working on both tools (pedagogical and technological) and modifications to my teaching to help my students transition to online learning. I thought I’d start sharing those tools here.

If you’ve taught online at all, you might have noticed that it’s really hard to get students to interact, either with each other or with you. This is particularly true when trying to do synchronous instruction. First of all, let me put this out here: I’m really only doing synchronous meetings to give students a chance to interact and hash out their ideas (suuuper important in physics), not as a way to teach content or to do any assessment. Synchronous meetings aren’t mandatory in my teaching, but I do feel that they are helpful as a way to maintain connections. So: what are some good ways to do that? I’m thinking particularly about getting students to interact on Zoom, and to share out answers.

One of my colleagues, Jenny Quinn, recently noted on social media that she put together a class list that she’d randomize and post before each Zoom meeting. This accomplishes two things: it gives students a heads up as far as what order they’ll be called on in a particular meeting (it’s always best when students can plan ahead when online), and it helps her call on students in an equitable way. It’s a good way to get students to interact at least with the instructor; student-student interactions are more difficult. More on those later.

I decided to try Dr. Quinn’s approach this week, so I put together a Google Sheet with my class list. I loaded it with my class list, a pointer to the student’s name who’s currently being called, and a set of macros that do the following:

  • Advance the pointer to the next student’s name
  • Go back to the previous student if there’s a mistake
  • Re-order the list randomly
  • Clear the pointer to the first student’s name on the list, if there’s a big mistake

The back end: There’s one page where you can paste your list of students’ preferred names/nicknames. I’ve got space for up to 500 – I don’t see this method as viable for more than that (I generally teach 20-40 person classes)! The student names are then auto-counted and a number of slots are generated according to the number of students in the class. Each name is given a random number. There is a counter at the top of the random number list that shows the number of the student you are calling on. On the right are four buttons that you can press to issue the four macros listed above: next (down arrow), previous (up arrow), randomize (u-turn arrow), and clear (cloud). These macros can also apparently be issued by pressing CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+7 through CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+0, though I don’t seem to be able to get that to work on my browser.

The front end: There’s also another page to which you should give students a link. That page just contains the list of slots, student names, and the indicator of who’s been called and who’s next. Be careful of embedding this page on your class website/LMS: if you use Google Sheets’ Publish functionality, the sheet won’t update until 5 minutes after you change it, so the call status indicator won’t be relevant. There is apparently a workaround, but I haven’t been able to get it to work correctly for me. Specifically, students would need to refresh the page manually each time the call status indicator changes – not something I want students to have to do. If you have a way to make this work, let me know.

How to use this: Open a tab to the Prototype Random Call List sheet. Choose File > Make a Copy and call the copy whatever you’d like. You may need to edit the permissions on the “back end” sheet so that you and not your students can edit the class list. If there is not a lock icon on the tab for the “back end” sheet, you can change permissions by choosing Data > Protected Sheets and Ranges and selecting “Add a sheet or range” and choosing the options that allow only you to edit the sheet. Then paste your class list into the “Name” column (starting in row 2). Then click the “Share” button at the top of the sheet, and click “Who Has Access?” Click the “Link Sharing” button to change the settings so your students can see the sheet. Post the link to your website or LMS.

Let me know if this is useful, or if you have feature requests.

Next week: the wonderful world of assignment sheets (or: how what I learned in 6th grade comes back to haunt me).

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