Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a roster of all your students names and photos. Something you could turn to as your handing back papers; avoiding that awkward moment were you show your students you don’t know their names. Wouldn’t it be great if after a conversation with a student you could look and see what their name is, what their major is, etc. I am sure that many of your institutions have some form of this, but I have never found one that had all of the things I wanted.

Luckily for us we live in the age of Google Docs. Using the “form” functionality in Google Docs you can create online surveys that will collect data and save it to a spreadsheet. I have set up what I call the “student info sheet” to collect pertinent student information at the beginning of each semester. What’s great about this is you can send the survey in an email to your students and then they can fill it out and submit it without ever leaving their email client. Alternatively, you can just email them the link or you can embed it on any webpage, like Blackboard. I’ve embedded an example survey at the end of this post. Feel free to try it out. Also, you can download the text of the survey here.

As nice as it is to have all this information about your students it would sure be a whole lot better if there were some photos attached to it. To handle this I have my students email me a photo of themselves with the subject line reading “Photo of _______ ________”. Then I can just search for their name and find the photo I am looking for. If you are worried about email file sizes, you can have your students send the pics to the gmail account you created when you signed up for google docs. There is gigabytes of space to burn with this email service.

But how do we connect the photos with the spreadsheet? Well you have two options 1) you can download the Google Doc spreadsheet of your survey results into Microsoft Excel and then just paste each photo into the appropriate row or 2) you can use a database program. I use a Mac computer and the best database program I’ve found on this platform is Bento. Bento is a dead simple drag and drop database for people, like me, who hate fiddling around with complicated database programs. It is $49, but it synchs with my iPhone and iPad. What I love about Bento is that I can have my photo databases wherever I am as long as I have my phone handy. While I like Bento, there are many database options that for the PC and Mac that are both cheaper and a lot more expensive. Pick the database that works for you.

Beyond the usefulness of the photos, the database has really helped me understand my students. Somehow knowing a students major, or the way they learn best helps me empathize with them. There is a tendency to assume that the reason someone is acting a certain way in your class is because either they hate you, your class, or the subject. However, there is usually another reason for their behavior and I’ve found students will share this reason with you if you ask.