Why I Think Google is Skynet: A Response to Google Calendar Appointments

It always happens. I receive my students’ essays. I mark them. I print a sign-up sheet for feedback sessions and affix it to my office door. I email my students to let them know.
Perhaps 15% of my students sign up for session.
One of the most common complaints lecturers in the UK receive is that they do not provide sufficient feedback on assessed work. I simply do not understand it. I provide nearly a page of commentary for each essay I mark and sit patiently in my office for hours (and hours) on end, waiting for students to come and discuss their papers with me. For any given assignment, only 15%-25% do.

There are probably several reasons for this low attendance.
First, I produce a significant amount of written feedback on assessed work, and I provide this to students electronically. Technically speaking, a student does not have to interact with me in any way to receive his or her mark and written commentary. If they did well, or feel the comments were straightforward and sensible, they may simply not need any further clarification.
I doubt 75% of my students feel this way.
Intimidation might be another reason. Despite being a very keen student, I always dreaded those awkward 15-minutes when the tutor calmly reiterated what they felt were my failings.
I don’t consider myself an intimidating figure, but the staff-student power relationship is a complex one.
As I sat pondering my situation an email appeared in my inbox.
‘I’m sorry I missed my appointment this afternoon. I forgot which time I has signed up for. Can I reschedule?’
Forgetfulness. Forgetting to sign up, forgetting to attend. Yes. I could see that accounting for a good percentage of my non-attendees. After all, they needed to sign their name to a piece of paper that was affixed to a door they rarely passed. Add the fact that many people (myself included) write appointment times on their palm, only to wash their hands before transferring the details, and you have a perfect scenario for low attendance.
But how to overcome this phenomenon?
I could bring the sign-up sheet to class; I have done so in the past. But students do not always have their diaries to hand and usually pass the sheet back to me, asking if they can decide later.
I could post available times on-line and have students email me their desired slot, updating the list once or twice a day. But this seems a great deal of administrative work with little prospect of alleviating the tendency to forget to sign up at all.
I could not, I thought, be the only person facing this difficulty. Perhaps there was an appointment-making application out there, somewhere, that I could use.
After a very short search I found one. Google Calendar. More specifically, the Appointment Slots feature of Google Calender.
After a very short perusal of its features, I have decided that the service is completely unusable.
Now Presenting the Socratic Dilemma’s Very First Negative Review

Normally, I am a fan of Google. They provide a wide range of services that are essentially free at the point of use. However, with their acquisition of YouTube, and the preponderance of unrelated websites allowing you to ‘Sign in with Google’, I have started to become a little concerned.
I don’t really believe that Google is mutating into Skynet. Not really. At least, I’m pretty sure its not. But there are some times when it does seem to stray a bit from its unofficial motto: Don’t be Evil. Google Calendar Appointments is one of those time.
The procedure seems simple enough. Using your own Google Calender, select a period of time and create appointment slots, choosing the length of each booking. Copy the link created and forward to the relevant parties. Simple:
No. It isn’t.
In order to book a slot, my students would need to sign into their own Google Account. The appointment information would then be automatically populated with the Google Identity. What if they didn’t want me to know their personal Google email address? I wasn’t sure I wanted them to know mine.
And if they didn’t have a Google Account, they would need to get one. Another password to remember, another account to check.
I just did not feel comfortable making my students do this. Moreover, I did not like the idea of Google tracking interactions between me and my students. The more accurate Google Ads becomes in anticipating my tastes and habits, the more concerned I become.

Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any free, anonymous alternatives. Google Docs Spreadsheets can be used without an account, but concerns over accidental deletions persuaded me against it.

After a more significant search, I realised that my university’s Virtual Learning Environment (SiteBuilder) had the solution all along. With it, I could create a ‘Resource Bookings’ page. Designed for equipment or room bookings, it works just as well for appointments.

By signing into the system with their existing student account, they can book their feedback session from the comfort of home or the university library, and they can check, cancel or reschedule an appointment with ease. Whenever an appointment is made, I receive an email, which I can drag and drop into my Outlook Calender. Simple.
After only a few days, my appointment slots are quickly filling up and not a single student has failed to arrive on time.
But what about the lecturers out there without this VLE functionality? What would you use?

One thought on “Why I Think Google is Skynet: A Response to Google Calendar Appointments

  1. Katrina Navickas

    I don't think our VLE has this capability. I use doodle.com which seems to work reasonably well.

    Another factor that ensures that students turn up for essay tutorials is that we make it part of their attendance requirement. So about 80% of mine turned up last week [that was a very busy day]

Leave a Reply