Q&A with Joe Schmidt, Google Apps Scripts & Add-ons Supporter

Joe Schmidt is retired analyst/programmer, who spends his free time helping people more effectively leverage online tools to improve their job performance.  His primary focus is collaborating with those in education and the nonprofit sector.

Below you will find a Q&A with Joe on how he is supporting educators with their use of Google Apps Scripts and Add-ons:

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I started my Information Technology journey in the mid sixties working with IBM cards.  I was promoted to analyst/programmer and used various languages on IBM mainframe computers for a major corporation.  After I retired, I missed working regularly with technology and became interested in many areas of the internet.  When Gmail came out, I was an early adopter.  As Google created more collaborative products, like Drive and Hangouts, my interest only increased.

Several years ago, I was invited to give a talk to 7th and 8th graders at a local school.  During the talk, I enjoyed telling the 7th grade about the history of computing and sharing with them an online programming language called Scratch from MIT.  For the 8th graders I talked about cloud computing using Google Drive.  I really enjoyed being on the teacher side of the classroom.  These talks were the beginning of my journey into technology in education.

Q: How did you first learn about Google Apps Scripts and Add-ons?  What led you to start supporting educators in their use?

Several years ago I started watching YouTube videos about Google Apps for Education. I became fascinated with how Google was being used in the classroom.  I watched many videos and Flubaroo, a Google Sheet Add-on developed by Dave Abouav, was mentioned multiple times.  I found the Flubaroo Forum and answered a couple of questions and I discovered that I could use my experience and skills to help others.  I saw this as a win-win situation.

In following the Flubaroo forum, I saw postings where folks were using Autocrat and FormMule when Flubaroo wasn’t able to meet their needs.  I just had to learn about these new scripts, and now I actively help support all three.

Q: Which Google Add-ons do you currently support and what does each of them do?  Can you provide a couple of examples of how teachers are currently using them?  What are some of the more interesting or unusual applications of these tools that you've seen?

To give you a sense of these tools, please see my comparison of Flubaroo, FormMule and Autocrat for grading and reporting a quiz.  Flubaroo is the easiest to use and can meet the needs of many teachers.  The teacher completes the quiz to establish the correct answers and then follows the Flubaroo menus to grade and email the results.  There is no need to understand formulas or other parts of a spreadsheet.  Flubaroo can provide instant results via a feature called Autograde.  There is also a summary sheet created to provide useful information for the teacher.

FormMule and Autocrat are mail merge scripts. The grading and reporting are managed using formulas created by the teacher who has much more control.  In the above comparison, I have some links that allow you to see samples of simple quizzes graded by each script.  I have developed some shortcuts that will allow the teacher to report the results with a minimum of <<merge tags>>.  Documenting the shortcuts is a work in progress for the comparison sheet though. 

I am amazed at the many ways FormMule and Autocrat are used.  In addition to grading quizzes, there seems to be an endless list of opportunities to use these scripts in connection with a Google Form and Spreadsheet.

As for applications, WOW! There are so many ways that I see people using FormMule and Autocrat.  If the data can be collected on a Google form it seems that there is no end to what people can do with the data.   It seems that the school administration are big users of these tools. 

I have seen quizzes used in ways I would never have imagined. While most of the questions are from those in education, I see nonprofits and businesses using the Add-ons as well.

Q: What motivates you to volunteer your time to help teachers using these Add-ons?

Realizing that my skills could help teachers and other educators, I became hooked on the Flubaroo Forum.  I then discovered that some teachers were using FormMule and Autocrat and joined those communities as well.

It is funny, but over fifty years ago when I was in school, I wasn’t the best student.  Maybe I’m trying to give back to teachers now.

I enjoy volunteering my time and talents.  The longer I’ve helped, the more I’ve learned about the scripts and how they are used.  Supporting these tools has allowed me to meet some very nice folks from around the world from the comfort of own my home.  I’m also thankful to my wife of over fifty years for letting me pursue this latest hobby.

Q: In your experience, how do you think these free tools have changed classrooms?

I certainly hope they have made the classroom more exciting for students and life easier for teachers.

I remember in grade school, when we saw the film projector setup in the room that the teacher had something special to share and hope that today’s students feel the same way when they use Google tools and add-ons. 

Providing “real-time feedback” for students seems to be popular with teachers.  Teachers can quickly assess student's knowledge of core areas and the students can receive feedback on areas they may need to improve.

Q: What advice do you have for educators who are new to Add-ons and want to try using these tools in their classrooms?

Read the documentation to gain an understanding of what the Add-on can and cannot do.  Try the Add-on in a test environment, using all of the recommended steps, to be sure it is capable of doing what you need it to before you create the Form and collect live data.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to try out new things.  Join forums and communities to become acquainted with what others are doing.  Don’t forget to read the Help or FAQ sections of the documentation.

When asking a question, be as specific as possible.  It isn’t a game of Clue where those trying to help should have to ask twenty questions.  Share the spreadsheets so others can see the problem and find a solution.  I know there are security reasons for not sharing data, but create the problem in a test file, if possible using anonymous data.

When a problem seems extra difficult, I will ask the person if we can do a Google Hangout where they can share their screen.  It is amazing how much faster we can solve the problem as a result.  I love Google because of the collaboration it allows.  A Hangout is the ultimate collaboration.

Q: What online resources do you recommend for the use of GAFE tools?

Besides joining the Flubaroo, FormMule and Autocrat forums, I would say that Google search is your friend.  Watching videos was the way for me to get started in my journey.  For sure, look at the Add-ons at New Visions CloudLab.  Check out  the Add-ons that can be found in the navigation to see what is new and what might be helpful.

Q: How do you think these tools will look in five to ten years? Any other predictions about the future of edtech?

I think that technology will continue to become more powerful and useful in the classroom.  The term bookbag will no longer be understood.  What physical books will there be in the future?  Technology will make life more exciting for both teachers and students.  As for more concrete predictions, I struggle to keep up with the present rate of change, so I wouldn't dare attempt to predict the future.

Q: How can readers get in touch with you if they have questions?

The best method of reaching me is via the forums and communities mentioned earlier.  I can also be reached at Google Plus

Q: Anything else that you would like our readers to know?

Don’t let technology pass you by.  Embrace technology!  Don’t be afraid of it.

I have not directly used these Add-ons in any of my projects, however, there is a small piece of of me in the many projects where I have helped others.

I probably get more enjoyment out of helping others than they realize.

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