Google Apps Bring Efficiency to School Tasks

Many people use Google to search for used cars or restaurants, but for Mark Dunetz, principal at Academy for Careers in Television and Film (ACTVF), Google is where he turns for solutions for running his school more smoothly.

When he opened the school's doors four years ago, he began using Google documents, a web-based word processing and office suite, for creating, sharing and editing documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Today at ACTVF, Google automatically sends alerts to students and their advisors when they've missed too many classes.


Photo: Andrew Parsons

"I started using Google documents because the current infrastructure for student databases was insufficient to accomplish the task of capturing the anecdotal data we wanted to keep track of," said Mark. "Google was free and uniquely flexible so we began to explore its possibilities."

With the aid of customized scripts, the possibilities have only increased.

A script is a list or series of commands executed to carry out a specific task. Scripts can be used to automate processes both on a local computer and on the web.

For ACTVF, scripts have become synonymous with higher levels of efficiency and time management. In fact, the building of a custom script cut the school's process of mid-semester reporting down at least 20 hours.

Typically each teacher would enter narrative descriptions of student performance on a series of individual spreadsheets after which each spreadsheet would be compiled into a master list from which reports would be generated. Now, thanks to a script, data from hundreds of individual spreadsheets can be pulled into a master database with the click of a mouse saving hours of time and allowing for easy updates of data as needed.

"Before our staff members had difficulty keeping up with the frequency and number of tasks," said Mark. "A lot of what we are doing with scripts addresses routine tasks and automates them, allowing staff to do more in less time."

Last November, Mark and shared the school's custom scripts at a Google Demo slam, a contest in which Google users illustrate how they use Google applications in creative and tech-savvy ways. Not only did Dunetz bring home the first place title in the demo slam, but he also developed working relationships with the developers of Google documents with whom he frequently corresponds.

"They were very surprised by the impact, especially the organizational impact, of the scripts we'd built," said Mark. "The challenge now is figuring out the most efficient way to share things we are doing with other schools and organizations."

Dunetz has created a website called NYC Google Schools as a means of beginning to share some of the information and tools that worked well at ACTVF. The website, which currently caters to 20 users representing about 12 schools, provides a network for those who use Google applications in their schools and also serves as a repository of solutions, providing templates for visitors to use.

"Modest investments can have a tremendous impact in making schools more efficient," Mark says. He is committed to spreading the word about the benefits of working with Google and figuring out how to make the work sustainable across schools.

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