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Using Google Calendar Appointment Slots for Parent Teacher Conferences

posted Oct 17, 2011, 7:42 PM by Eric Curts   [ updated Oct 20, 2011, 11:03 AM ]
This Fall we tried something new for our Parent Teacher conferences at North Canton Middle School.  We used Google Calendar Appointment Slots to do all the scheduling... and it actually went quite well!  Below I will explain the basics of what we did, what went well, what the challenges were, and provide links to both our staff directions and parent directions.

Background

Prior to this year we have used two other options for scheduling our Parent Teacher Conferences.
  • By hand - For many years the teachers sent home forms for the parents to fill out and send back in, which the teachers then had to sort through and try their best to schedule and coordinate with other staff members.  It often took days of teacher planning time to create the schedules.
  • Paid service - Then we used an online paid service.  This worked well, but still required quite a bit of set up ahead of time to get all the data out of our student record system (student info, teacher info, schedules, etc.) and into a format that the system would accept.  And of course, there was a cost for the service.

Appointment Slots

We are in our second year of Google Apps, so when the Middle School principal asked if there was another way to do conference scheduling, I took a look at how our Google services might be used.  Luckily Google had just rolled out a new feature in Google Calendar called Appointment Slots which was a perfect fit for what we needed to do.  Before we get into the actual process we used, here is a quick explanation of what Appointment Slots are.

With Appointment Slots you can create a special calendar that shows when you are available for meetings.  People who have a special link to access that calendar can view those available meetings, and can click on them to schedule them.  Appointment Slots serve as the middle man between you and the people you need to meet with, providing an easy, secure, online way to schedule meetings.  Here is how it works:
  1. First, make sure you are in “Week” view or “Day” view in Google Calendar.
  2. Now click on the day where you want to add your appointment slot.
  3. You will get the normal pop-up window to add an event.
  4. However, you will also see an “Appointment slots” link at the top of the pop-up window.



  5. Click the “Appointment Slots” link to switch from normal event mode to appointment slot mode.
  6. Next click “Edit details” at the bottom of the pop-up window to get to the advanced screen.
  7. From here you can enter all the needed information for the event.
  8. When done, take note of the very long link next to “This calendar’s appointment page:”  This is the link to your special appointment slot calendar.



  9. You need to copy this address and give it to whoever needs access to your appointment slot calendar to schedule appointments.
  10. When someone uses that link (and if they are logged in with a valid Google account) they will be taken to a special appointment slot calendar for you.
  11. They will not be able to see any of your personal events on your calendar, but instead will only see the appointment slots you set up.



  12. If they click on an appointment slot, they can claim that slot and schedule it for themselves.
  13. The event will get removed from the available calendar and you will be sent an email notifying you it was scheduled.
Those are the basics.  I have provided much more details in the handouts linked later in this article.

Our Procedure

Below are the basic steps we took to roll out this new system for conference scheduling.  You can certainly make changes to this process to fit your specific needs, but this is what worked well for us.
  1. We trained our Middle School teachers on how to set up appointment slots for the Parent Teacher Conference Nights by doing a short demonstration and giving them a five page handout (see below for the handout).
  2. The teachers created their appointment slots
  3. The teachers then emailed me the link for their appointment slot calendars.  Since this link never changes, this was a one time event.
  4. Next, I used Google Sites to set up a password protected site for the parents.
  5. On that site I provided a list of all the middle school teachers, along with links to their appointment slot calendars.
  6. The parents were then given introductory instructions on our website and a link to a four page handout with detailed directions (see below for the handout).
  7. Parents then logged in to the Google Site (we used the username and password they already use to check on student grades so they did not have to learn something new.)  Note: To see an appointment slot calendar, the user has to be logged in with a valid Google account.  Since not all parents have personal Gmail accounts, we created Google Apps accounts for them to use.
  8. Once on the site, the parents viewed the appointment slot calendars and scheduled the slots they wanted.
  9. As this happened, the teachers received emails confirming the appointments, and they Google Calendar filled up with the information for each parent.
  10. As needed parents made changes.
  11. As needed our building secretary helped parents with questions.
  12. In the end we were able to schedule both nights of conference for over 70 teachers.

The Benefits

This system worked well for us for several reasons:
  • Teachers were able to specifically set up their appointment slots.  If they needed to start late due to a sports practice, leave early for their children, or simply put in a bathroom break, they had total control over when their slots would be.
  • Parents were able to see exactly which slots were still available and schedule them in real time.
  • Everything was scheduled live, so there was no lengthy turn around time, and no wondering if a schedule went through.
  • Teachers were able to easily invite other staff members to join them for a specific appointment by simply sharing the event with the needed teachers.
  • Parents could cancel and reschedule appointments online, and the teacher got email notifications about the changes.
  • If needed, the building secretary could easily log in for a parent who was having trouble and schedule for them.
  • And of course... it was free!

The Challenges

Unfortunately not everything worked perfectly.  We did have some challenges and some things we will try to improve upon for the Spring conference.
  • Even though we asked parents to only schedule one slot with each teacher, nothing technically stopped them from scheduling multiple slots with the same person.  This was not common, but did happen a few times, whether intentionally or not.
  • Some teachers had turned off notifications for their calendar and therefore were not getting emails letting them know about the changes parents were making.  We had to remind all the staff to go in and double-check to make sure their notifications were turned on.
  • To view the appointment calendars, users must be logged in with a valid Google account.  It would be nice if Google would allow people to access the appointment slot calendars if they just had the special link, and therefore would not be required to be logged in with a Google account, since many people still do not have a personal Gmail account. To solve this we had to make Google Apps accounts for all the parents.
  • Of course, this made it a little confusing for those parents that actually did have personal Gmail accounts.  Since the parents needed to use Google accounts we had set up for them, it was necessary for them to log out of their personal Gmail account first if they had one. Although we provided directions about this, this did confuse a few people who were logged into their personal Gmail accounts and could not access the scheduling site until they logged out.

The Directions

Below are links to the handouts we prepared and share with our staff and our parents.

Teacher Directions - Link to Google Document

This handout covers:
  1. How to Create your Conference Appointment Slots
  2. How to View Parent Appointments
  3. How to Invite Other Staff Members to a Scheduled Conference Slot
  4. How to Fill in your own Appointment Slot
  5. What to do if a Parent Cancels an Appointment
  6. How to Print your Conference Schedule

Parent Directions - Link to Google Document

This handout covers:
  1. Before you Start: Note about Personal Gmail Accounts
  2. Before you Start: Note about Student Schedules
  3. How to Access the Parent Teacher Conference Scheduling Website
  4. How to Log into the Conference Scheduling Website
  5. How to Access the Staff Members Appointment Schedules
  6. How to Schedule a Conference Appointment Slot
  7. How to View and Print your Scheduled Appointments
  8. How to Cancel an Appointment you have Scheduled
  9. How to Schedule Appointments for Multiple Children
  10. How to Log out of the Conference Scheduling System
Conclusion

As mentioned before, I am sure we will tweak this for the Spring conferences and try to improve the system based on what we have learned.  We also plan to expand this to our High School conferences as well.  All in all it worked quite well and we got very favorable comments from teacher and parents.

Please feel free to use the comments area below or contact me by email to share your questions, comments, suggestions, or experiences with this.

Eric Curts - ericcurts@gmail.com

Notes

In response to a question about what Google Apps account the parents used to access the Appointment Slot calendars:

Basically the parents have to use a Google account to access Appointment Slots (unfortunately that is just a requirement/feature of how Google created Appointment Slots).  However, many parents do not have personal Gmail accounts, so we created Google Apps accounts for them to use for this specific purpose.

However, we did not create them on our normal Google Apps domain (northcantonschools.org).  We have a second domain at parents.northcantonschools.org.  That is where we created the accounts.  We used the exact same usernames and passwords as what the students use for our primary domain, since these are the same credentials used by the parents for other services we offer, such as checking grades online through our electronic grading program (not a Google service).  This way the parents did not have to learn a new account, but could just use what they were used to.

However, since they were not using their student's "real" Google Apps accounts, they were not actually logging into their child's Gmail or calendar or such.  This is important because if they used their child's real Google Apps account, then the child would get email confirmations of the scheduled conference appointments and might just decide to click the "cancel" button to cancel the appointment (not that any of them would ever do such a thing).

To see a demonstration of our final product and process, see this video:


The video covers a variety of Google Apps examples, but you will see our Parent Teacher Conference Scheduling system around the 44 minute mark in the video (although all the of video is very useful).