How educational institutes are benefitting from online spreadsheet collaboration tools

By | March 11, 2014

We have been writing a lot about online spreadsheet tools after doing some research on available tools in the market. We came across an interesting use case of such tools in education domain. We talked to one of the institutes using one such product and why they switched from MS Excel to online SaaS application?

To understand their use case, we asked them to explain their problems which they were facing and what made them decide to go for online SaaS application.

In their institute, managing data coming from students, faculty and management and outside vendors was getting messed up because of unmanageable copies of same dataa by different people involved in different processes. Example, each faculty member has to collaborate with his/her students on the task/work/paper assigned to them. At the same time, faculty member also has to manage a spreadsheet to keep track of all the courses which are currently running as well as for next semesters. The work of faculty is also distributed to keep track of all the interview schedules of candidates and invited speakers in case of any events. Faculty is also responsible for any data collection assignments to student for research projects. Thus collaborating with multiple parties in the same organization.

Students are also part of the collaboration tasks, where small teams of students working on an academic project have to collect and collaborate data among themselves and the faculty. While the teaching assistant is collaborating with the faculty on student grades in another spreadsheet. Any more such scenarios which almost every institute work on.

Faculty Student Collaboration

Faculty Student Collaboration

While migrating from Office suite excel to online spreadsheet, they picked the most common use case of students-faculty collaboration on project work. They started using Google Docs for this purpose, as it was free to use and is very similar to Excel. They create a list of all the tasks and task assignments for review on it and started using it. Every student had to update the status of the task from assigned to pending to completed with estimated time to complete and actual time to complete.  Faculty would review the status of task and assignments of tasks, plus grade the task based on the quality and time taken. But they hit a road block when students were able to view the grades column and were able to change it without problem, even they were able to see details of other projects and other student grades. It was kind of security breach which was unacceptable. They planned to create separate sheet for each project and keep grades in another sheet but then it was again getting difficult to manage those sheets. Another issue they faced was inconsistencies in the data capture and column settings, many times data was getting lost and sometimes applied column settings were not reflecting. Also, data validation was becoming more and more problematic to get data cleansing done at regular period of time.

Then they started looking for alternatives, they reviewed Zoho Sheets, EditGrid and CollateBox. Each of these apps had their own benefits but some were better than others. Zoho was giving them complete office suite while editGrid was giving complete Excel functionalities and more but it was closing the services in May. CollateBox on the other hand was actually specifically solving their each problems they were facing with the other tools, like hiding certain columns from student, making some columns only read only, filtering and sharing only particular projects data with each group and maintaining same master sheet to collate data. Column settings were contextual based on the auto data validation. Filters and sorts are one click functionalities. They observed consistency in data and formats. Multiple excels sheet and multiple copies of those sheets circulating across different email ids was gone and better way of collaboration was in the house.