The Robot Secretary Challenge
Schools and classrooms are complex, dynamic environments from an information and communications management perspective. How can we use digital tools to redesign and automate the many inefficiencies that arise from this complexity? If you had a Robot Secretary, what would you have it do? This challenge invites participants to join an informal learning network to identify compelling systems challenges, share expertise, support one-another, and build practical, portable solutions that combine powerful free, cloud-based tools like Google Apps and Apps Scripts. Challenge completion means sharing your solution back to the k-12 community as a YouPD Hack. All hacks that meet rubric requirements will earn their author the highly-wearable Robot Secretary’s Badge! Depending on the volume of submissions, submitters will be invited to a demo slam in early September at Google NYC, where they will compete for prizes and glory.
Schools and classrooms are complex, dynamic environments from an information and communications management perspective. How can we use digital tools to redesign and automate the many inefficiencies that arise from this complexity? If you had a Robot Secretary, what would you have it do?
This challenge invites participants to join an informal learning network to identify compelling systems challenges, share expertise, support one-another, and build practical, portable solutions that combine free, cloud-based tools like Google Apps and Apps Scripts. Challenge completion means sharing your solution back to the k-12 community as a YouPD Hack. All hacks that meet rubric requirements will earn their author the highly-wearable Robot Secretary’s Badge! Depending on the volume of submissions, submitters will be invited to a demo slam in early September at Google NYC, where they will compete for prizes and glory.
Preview Action Steps
We believe these could be the days of lightweight, open (yet SECURE), flexible, modular, cloud-based tools for schools. This challenge aims to the put the power to tinker with and configure effective learning systems in the hands of people who understand the complex work of education.
We live in a decade where everything you need to know to write complex spreadsheet formulas, install and customize web applications, and write code can be found through a few fingerstrokes from a search engine. Those leading this challenge have acquired what they know largely through problem-solving via search and by finding and joining networks of folks trying to solve similar problems. We invite you to join us in this same kind of learning around a real systems problem in your school that you want to solve.
This challenge is very much a participant-driven work in progress, designed by career educators who are interested in teaching themselves and others more about how to use free tools to build agile, well-tuned school-level and classroom-level systems that work. We invite you to join us in building a community of practice.
Within the challenge, we have tried to create lots of different, well-marked entry-points by experience level, but we make some assumptions about prior knowledge:
- Comfort with using basic spreadsheet formulas
- Working knowledge of the Google Apps platform, including Docs, Forms, Calendars, and Gmail
- Tenacity in the use of search.
Much more important than prior knowledge or skill is disposition, however. As challenge facilitators, we are eager to support anyone who's interested in pursuing this worthy work with us. Please join!
Thoughtfully-defined problems can be innovation's secret sauce. Before you dive into a bunch of resources and building blocks, take a moment to marinate in the problem space. What are some processes that need automation in your practice? Better yet, what are some processes in your work as an educator that technology could allow you to completely re-think?
Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match:
Based on responses that came in prior to the Feb 2 launch of this challenge, we've launched a "project hub" for this challenge to provide a rudimentary collaboration space for roughly 30 distinct project ideas with their interested developers. Teams created for today are by no means "assignments"...merely suggested groupings for you to explore before launching into the work.
For now, use the spreadsheet of project ideas to read up and figure out who you want to meet:
Not comitted to a project yet? Take your pick of suggested next actions:
- Cruise the projects directory on the Hub, find a project team you'd like to join, and reach out to the existing members with a pitch for what you might be able to offer the group.
- Don't see a project that's a fit for your needs? Start your own. Use the #robotsecretary twitter Hashtag to reach out to others. Also, submit your idea to this form and we'll help you get set up with a spoke on the Hub. At the Feb 2nd Blender, the room will be sectioned for people proposing new project ideas to meet each other. If you missed the blender, take a moment to join our Google group and shout your project idea out to the group.
- Don't feel quite ready to pursue an RSC project yet? Come back to this step and spend some time noodling with the tutorials contained in the Leveled learning resources below. Find a small group of others to work with at a level you are comfortable with.
If you are like most mortals, you are going to face technical hurdles in your travels that will require you to have a go-to when you get stuck, need feedback, or want to share the excitement of progress. Configuring and coding systems takes some courage, and courage takes comunity.
Beyond the scope of this two-month challenge, we aim to grow an active core of Apps for EDU amature systems-builders and tinkerers in the NYC area who together can help grow a body of powerful, free, modular solutions for schools.
This listserve is moderated by ACTvF Principal Mark Dunetz, whose pioneering work using Apps Script, Sites, and Docs inspired the development of this challenge. Andrew Stillman (career educator, self-taught coder, blah blah blah) will also be actively supporting this list-serve.
Because of its exclusive purpose, there's a survey required to join this group. The information collected will be used to help target our supports.
Once you are approved as a member, we highly recommend you introduce yourself and float a problem definition to the Group so others can chime in with ideas for solutions.
Most tech-savvy educators use only a small fraction of the power of spreadsheets and forms, so you will likely discover many common problems can be accomplished without scripts, using Google Spreadsheet right out of the box. The next action step will provide some scenarios demonstrating the use of formulas to perform common tasks that often stump beginners, and that form building blocks for future steps.
Here are some generic go-to support resources when you need help extending your working knowledge of Spreadsheets.
- Google Spreadsheets help forum
- Google Spreadsheets section of Google Apps for EDU training site
- Google Spreadsheets function (formula) list
- Learn how to look up functions from within a spreadsheet
Search hints: When searching for formulas and tutorials, including "Excel" in your query can prove useful as there are tons of tutorials and user-groups out there from the Microsoft crowd. Prowl through long discussion threads using "Ctrl + F" (Find) in your browser to hone in on topics...it's amazing how many solutions are just waiting to be found out there.
Do not feel the need to walk through these Levels chronologically. Browse and spend time on the level you feel is most useful and a fit for the problem you want to code towards. Is there something you wish you could do but can't figure out from the tutorials below? Figure something out that others could benefit from? Post into the thread below and let's consider adding another tutorial about it.
Google Forms are amazingly flexible and can quickly be created on the fly. Since they feed into Google Spreadsheets, their results can be immediately incorporated into data tracking and reporting systems built in Apps. They work well across browsers and devices, and can be the backbone of a lot of DIY systems.
And yet...Google Forms are also dreadful in their ability to reference existing data. For example, a whole-school student list must be manually entered, name by name, into the dropdown on a form. Moreover, users must submit data that is reliable and clean enough to run lookups against. This limitation has a workaround, which we strongly encourage you to learn, as it opens lots of cool possibilities for systems builders.
Click the link below for a tutorial and mini challenge!
An Apps Script is a short peice of code that can be installed inside a Google Spreadsheet or Google Site. Scripts can hook into a growing number of Google services, including Docs, Sites, Calendars, Spreadsheets, and more to create additional functionality that is not a native part of the Spreadsheets or Sites products.
Scripts can perform very powerful functions that have the potential to save enormously on the overhead required to carry out certain administrative and communications functions in schools and classrooms.
It is not necessary to learn to write Apps Script code in order to start using scripts. There is a growing number of scripts that are freely available and easy to install from the Apps Script Library. However, not all scripts you might want to use are in the library, so you should take a moment to get acquainted with how they are installed in a number of contexts.
Scripts to Try
- Build an auto-notification system using the formMule module
- For now, try building from these two starter spreadsheets.
- Create Your Own Custom Spreadsheet Function
- Add a Spreadsheet Menu Item That Calls Up a Message Box
- Import a CSV
This section will be further developed in the coming weeks.
For now, get started at
Let's build this thing. Then let's search for bugs. There will be bugs. And we will find them.
We'll be adding more cool stuff to help guide our group in the coming week. Stay tuned for more in this actiona step.
Who at your school most needs this robot secretary? How can you help them find her?
We'll be adding more to help guide our group in the coming week on this. Stay tuned for more in this action step.
Other educators deserve to use your Robot Secretary to fix systems at their school too. Create a short 5-7 screencast that walks someone through how to bring your solution to their school.
We think you're pretty amazing for getting to the end of this Challenge. Big pat on the back. And.... Stay tuned for how we'll celebrate.
No submissions have been added to this group yet.