MET:Google Forms for formative assessment

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This page created by Catherine Spinney & Kevin McGuire (March 2014) with the stop motion artifact added in 2017 by Josh Elsdon

Google Forms is an open source surveying tool offered through Google. It enables the user to create and publish questionnaires with a wide variety of questions. Google Forms’ abilities are subtle on the surface, but quite profound when one considers the capabilities it affords, especially in an educational environment.


The types of questions afforded by Google Forms include Likert scale questions, multiple choice, choose many, and true-false, along with open-ended questions that allow short or long answers.

The form designer can change the number of responses and types of responses. Most importantly, however, is that the designer can create validation criteria that must be satisfied before the response can be submitted. These criteria can be in a configured in a variety of ways. They can be simple, such as requiring a text-based or numerical response, they can require specific text or phrases, or they can reject specific text or phrases/expressions.

While questions are limited to text-based content, there are ways to add images and video to make the content more interesting. However, there is no direct way to embed XHTML into the question or to create custom styling. Alternatively, it is possible to embed a Google-generated form into the code of a custom website. This would allow the designer to work around the strict structure of the form and generate custom embedded material into questions or the page itself.


In general, assessment can be summative or formative. Assessment should be planned to support learning. Gibbs and Simpson (2004)[1] list several conditions that exist to facilitate assessment supporting learning:

  1. The number of tasks are sufficient to promote adequate study time;
  2. The tasks are engaging;
  3. The task promotes appropriate learning activity;
  4. Feedback is frequent and detailed;
  5. Feedback focuses on student output;
  6. Feedback is received when it still matters to the student;
  7. Feedback is relevant to the purpose of the task;
  8. Feedback is relevant to students' perceptions of the task;
  9. Feedback is received and heard;
  10. Feedback is acted upon.

Google Forms can be used as one of many tools at a teacher's disposal to help meet these conditions.

Google Forms enables an assessment-centred framework to easily and quickly gather both anecdotal and analytical information from students regarding their comprehension of a particular topic. These assessment-centred “tasks include the design of a series of learning activities that encourage independent study and community building, that deeply explore content knowledge, that provide frequent and diverse forms of formative assessment…” (Anderson, 2008, p. 346)[2]. While these learning activities may not appear to be varied through the assessment itself, their implementation can be utilized in such a fashion to encourage students to work together in group problem solving tasks or to develop learner-centred outcomes through feedback and feedback loops.

High Frequency to Promote Studying
Figure1: Editing the confirmation message.

There are a variety of ways to provide this level of feedback using Google Forms as an assessment tool. By creating self-grading forms (using Flubaroo) tasks can be more frequent and specific, encouraging ongoing study. In addition, by having the form self-grade, the option exists to email the students a response, with their grade, very quickly.

If the task is a problem solving, longer answer type of question the confirmation message can be edited to include a link to the correct solution (in video format or as a text file). This provides an opportunity to have frequent and detailed feedback for the student.

Engaging Tasks to Promote Learning

To make the tasks more engaging, the form can have either have videos or link to some external animations or videos embedded within them. The problems or questions can then be framed around the video. This moves assessment and instruction away from just print or text based content. In addition the students can upload a photo or a link to a video file showing their solution to a problem in the answer space. This ensures the assessment task is tailored to the desired outcome. When students upload video links in the Google form, these can then be shared with the whole class and feedback can then be provided by students on each others’ work.

Bransford, Brown and Cocking (1999)[3] state, in their book How People Learn Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, that “all learning involves transfer from previous experience”. (p80) This points out that all students enter into a topic or unit with prior knowledge. According to Bransford et al (1999)[3] this has several implications for learning. One of the more difficult implications of this is that many times this prior knowledge may be centred around misconceptions. These misconceptions are difficult to shake if students intuitively believe their own model provides a better explanation of their own observations. Bransford et al [3] point out that to counteract those misconceptions teachers must make the students’ thinking visible and then have them reconstruct their knowledge. In Science Teaching Reconsidered: A Handbook[4], there are three recommendations for overcoming misconceptions. The teacher must find a way to identify the misconceptions, provide an opportunity for students to discuss and confront these misconceptions, and then provide evidence and models which allow the students to revise their understanding of the concept.

Google forms would be a valuable tool in identifying misconceptions if used to survey student ideas on a concept prior to beginning the lesson. By using pivot tables to generate reports on the submitted survey, anonymous charts highlighting common misconceptions can be created. These are then used as a starting point for a class discussion or to generate a set of examples to work with. Through this process the student receives immediate feedback, which is acted upon in class by the whole in a collaborative manner. This format can assist all the individuals who hold some of those misconceptions.


Personalized Feedback

Feedback is a crucial element of the learning process. Gibbs and Simpson (2004)[1] believe that meaningful feedback must be situated in the event itself. To create such an experience, the feedback should be organic, and must be generated based upon the responses provided by the student. In order to create this, Google Forms can be used to provide specific feedback dependent on either the response to a particular question (something that is generally easier to do if the student is to choose from a list of possible response, such as in a multiple choice style question), or the student's overall result. Such a process becomes more difficult when the question becomes more open-ended; however, keywords and phrases can be used as triggers for particular forms of feedback. However, this requires an incredible amount of planning and foresight from the creator of the question. Allowing the feedback to be an automated process provides that feedback to the student immediately, ensuring the process of learning is not forgotten once the task is complete.

Relevant Feedback

Having generated content ensures that the student is receiving personalized feedback that is particular to her responses. The power in this simple ability of the program is immense. The flexibility of the type of the feedback allows the creator of the Google Form to be very directed with what is given to the student after the assessment is complete. Following Gibbs and Simpson (2004)[1] once again, feedback must be tailored to the task in a way that can either enhance desired outcomes or detract from incorrect ones. A variety of items can be included within the feedback provided to the student. On the low end of the complexity spectrum, these items can be simple text-based explanations of what the question was referencing or what the expected learning outcomes the question was testing for. This type of feedback does not provide meaningful discourse about the question, however it does situate it in a specific locus in the course, which could be beneficial for establishing a hierarchy of topics or progression of ideas. Further, giving the answers or possible solutions would only be a meaningful form of feedback if it could be assured that the student applied this information for later assessments.

A more meaningful type of a feedback could be in the form of links to alternative sources of information, allowing the student to rectify her mistakes through a more self-reflective process. Additionally, these links could move the lesson forward by presenting alternative perspectives or ways of interpreting and implementing the material in the lesson. Depending on how the student performed on her initial assessment, this type of feedback could either be corrective (if the feedback was in response to an error) or reinforce and enhance her understanding (if the feedback is generalized). More useful feedback could contain links to more assessment material. This could be a similar Google Form if the same type of assessment is desired, or an alternate assessment device if that is preferred. This additional material that would give the student an opportunity to re-attempt the assessment or provide additional material to prove her skills.

While the previous forms of feedback can be described as adequate or even appropriate depending on the type of assessment and outcomes desired by the creator of the form, creating customized feedback for each student would be the most beneficial. Creating this form of feedback would be akin to discussing the response with a teacher. This would allow the student to take away a meaningful piece of criticism tailored to her. For example, a script or validation criterion could be written that would search for a specific phrase that is a common misconception within a particular science topic. The presence of this phrase could be used to generate specific feedback that provides a link to a mnemonic device that helps eradicate the error.

Timely Feedback that is Acted Upon

While performing the assessment is meaningful in and of itself, it is the feedback that can elevate the learning process to something much more beneficial. Once the feedback has been provided, the onus falls upon the student to ensure that the feedback is acknowledged and reflected upon. As an educator, it is difficult to determine if such a thing has occurred; however, as a Google Form designer, it can be quite simple. Self-grading forms allow for specific feedback to be given to specific students. This feedback can include access to further assessment material, such as another Google Form that contains follow-up questions that tests whether or not the feedback has been read, understood, and assimilated into the student’s framework for that topic in question. As another benefit of this style of feedback, because the material is being self-graded, this allows the designer/teacher to dispense feedback more readily so that the assessment can be referenced in further educational interactions.

Data Manipulation

Pivot Tables
File:Pivot table data.jpg
Table 1: Sample data from multiple classes in a response sheet generated by a Google Form.

Pivot tables are a quick and convenient way to sum up or sort large amounts of raw data. They can be used to collate large amounts of data from students, such as their self reflections or self assessments on a task, or they can be used to organize the results of an online quiz or problem. The pivot table is created in a new sheet within the same response spreadsheet. The students submit their responses to the form; the educator can then collate the responses in the spread sheet using the pivot table to provide a collated set of data, sorted by class or by topic. Google has an extensive help section for this tool.

In Table 1 there is a set of student data from a number of different sections. A pivot table enables the educator to sort by class section, that way the instructor can create just one form to send to all three sections of the same course.

Figure 2: Selecting the Pivot Table.

To create the pivot table select “pivot table report" from the drop down menu under Data, as shown in figure 2. This will open a new tab in the spreadsheet. The new tab will be labelled Pivot Table 1. When the pivot table tab is opened the instructor can then choose which data to select.

File:Pivot table 2.jpg
Figure 3: The report editor showing the two rows of data - Class section and Student Name

In the pivot table sheet, a menu opens up on the side. This menu is called the report editor. Here is where the instructor will select the data for the pivot table. In the example in figure 3 two fields have been selected to appear as rows. This will nest the data according to the order the groups are displayed. These groups can be moved by dragging them into the order desired.

File:Pivot table 4.jpg
Figure 4: The pivot table with the values displayed

Once the groups are established, values are selected to be displayed and this will populate the report. In the example, as seen in figure 4, the first row was the class section and the second row was the student name. The value displayed was the student score on the self reflection form.

This is a relatively simple application of the pivot table report, however the tool can be used for summarizing data in any spreadsheet, and provide an ongoing picture of an individual students’ progress. Data summarized as a pivot table can be further manipulated and displayed as a chart or graph to enhance visual impact.

Stop Motion Artifact


Stop Motion References

Fedor, D. B., Davis, W. D., Maslyn, J. M., & Mathieson, K. (2001). Journal of management: Performance improvement efforts in response to negative feedback: The roles of source power and recipient self-esteem Sage Publications. doi:10.1016/S0149-2063(00)00087-8

Phye, G. D., & Andre, T. (1989). Delayed retention effect: Attention, perseveration, or both? Contemporary Educational Psychology, 14(2), 173-185.

Shute, V. (2008). Focus on Formative Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 78(1), 153-189. Retrieved from


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Gibbs, G. & Simpson, C. (2004). “Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning.” Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Accessed online 11 March 2009
  2. Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an Online Learning Context. In: Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University. Accessed online 3 March 2009
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Bransford, J., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (1999). 3 Learning and Transfer. How people learn brain, mind, experience, and school (Expanded ed., pp. 51-78). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.Accessed online March 9, 2014
  4. Science teaching reconsidered a handbook (pp. 28-30). (1997). Chapter 4: Misconceptions as Barriers to Understanding Science. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Accessed online March 8, 2014