Welcome! I am Jason Nguyen, a graduate student in ethnomusicology at Indiana University, Bloomington, and this blog is where I make observations about music, culture, and academic life.

“You can text in class…if it’s going to ME!” – Student Texts –> Google Spreadsheet. (Semi-)LIVE in the Classroom!


So in C122 Interpersonal Communication this week, I wanted everyone to submit a greeting of some sort to me, and then we could look at the student responses in aggregate. Basically, this is what I wanted to happen:

Me: Everybody pretend that I’m the friend you want to talk to after class, and text me how you’ll greet them.
Students: [ dutifully texting their messages ]
*magic magic magic*
The Board: [ magically shows all the text messages ]

The solution I came up with wasn’t perfect (it takes a few minutes to update and grab all the texts), but it went pretty damn well. Instructions after the jump.

Basically, there are three steps that you need to go through:

  1. Setup a Google Voice account – you need a number they can text to, and that number needs to output emails for the texts.
  2. Filter and label SMS as they go to Gmail – These emails need to be labeled, so we’ll use the filter functions in Gmail to make that happen.
  3. Use IFTTT (If This Then That) to trigger a document update - IFTTT can link to your Google account and output new emails to documents and spreadsheets. We’ll use this functionality to output to a document that can then be updated real-time(-ish).

Now in detail…

1. Setup a Google Voice account.

Go to http://voice.google.com/ and create a google voice account and set up a number. This will be the number that students can text to.

After setting up the number, you’ll want to forward your text messages to your Gmail account. Look for the setup button (box 1 below), then click the Text tab (box 2), and then forward the texts to a gmail address (box 3). Save and exit.




2. Filter and Label SMS as they go to Gmail

Now, texts will go to your email address, but you’ll need to filter them so that IFTTT can find them in the next step.

Go to your Gmail settings and select the “Filters” tab (1 below) and then click “Create a new filter” (2).


You’ll then want to make the filter itself. Set the “From” field to match the domain that the texts forward from (1 below), and just to be sure, make sure that filtered emails have the word “SMS” in their subject lines (2). Then create the filter (3)



To finish up the filter, setup the label that IFTTT will be looking for–I simply went with SMS. You can optionally also choose to have the emails archived so you don’t have to do it manually later. Then just “Create Filter.” Almost there!



3. Use IFTTT to send the texts to a Google Doc/Spreadsheet.

IFTTT (If this then that) is a web application that works through a number of “channels” that trigger (THIS) an action (THAT). I love it for a lot of different things, but for our purposes, we’re going to use it to hook up your Gmail to your Google Docs/Drive. First, you’ll want to set up an account, but I’m not going to bother with explaining that.

You can use either the online site ( https://ifttt.com/ ) or the super-easy iPhone site to setup. Examples below will use the site.

Begin by starting a new “Recipe.” Choose your THIS in the phrase “ifthisthenthat” and make your trigger a new Gmail message with your chosen label (SMS):





Now you choose your THAT, which is an action based on the Google Drive channel. Of all the options, I found that the spreadsheet works best, because sometimes the Document hiccups with so many requests coming in at once. Set everything as you like (IFTTT creates the doc if it doesn’t exist, so no worries). For the “Formatted Row” there are a bunch of fields, but I typically just leave the {{BodyPlain}} option so that student responses appear anonymously:




Final result should be something like this:





Now you’re all done! Your IFTTT recipe will now periodically (every few minutes) poll your Gmail and insert the texts into a spreadsheet. Throw that spreadsheet up on the projector and it’ll update whenever they come in. You can make IFTTT update it’s polling immediately (go to the recipe and click the little “check” icon to refresh), but that didn’t work perfectly for me so I wouldn’t rely on that for instant update.

Because of the lag, I found that the best way to do this is to request students text near the beginning of class, then do something with their messages 10-15 minutes later or at the end of class. My students really seemed to enjoy the real-time interaction and having all their messages up on the board at once.

Also, you don’t have to remake the recipe each time you do this. Just edit the recipe and change the filename to output to a new file. Also, when class is done, just turn off the recipe and turn it back on when you need it again.



Image by BuzzFarmers from Providence & Tampa (On the phone.  Uploaded by JohnnyMrNinja) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

3 comments to “You can text in class…if it’s going to ME!” – Student Texts –> Google Spreadsheet. (Semi-)LIVE in the Classroom!

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