I was recently entrusted with the task of creating an online, registration system for 1700 high school students for a neat event we run at Lake Forest High School called “E Day” – a 3-hour program where students choose breakout sessions and experience fun, new ideas in an atmosphere of creativity and community building. Think sessions like guitar jam, yoga, smoking meats, improv theatre, dorm room design – yeah, it’s super fun. Each student needed to register for one breakout session depending on their lunch period. We wanted to use the GAFE tools in-house to see if we could pull off the registration process. The biggest issue to solve: sessions had to be maxed out at individual numbers (like an event selling out). Could we do this in-house and avoid 3rd party websites?
Hello, Google Forms and Add-ons!
I’ll walk you through how we pulled this off, and how we solved one unique problem with an even more unique solution.
- Created a website. Here it is in all its glory – depending on what lunch period students had, they were directed to a different area of the site. (Our Google Forms are domain restricted – I needed the username recorded – so you won’t be able to view the linked sign-up sheets). But I’ll explain it below.
- Created the mother form. Check it out here – I then copied it about 50 times, because each session needed its own Form. I renamed each Form and put them into separate folders in Drive to help with organization. If you’ve checked out the Form, you are probably wondering two things: Why didn’t you just create one (1) Form and include all 50 sessions as multiple choice options, and why are there so many page breaks? Allow me to explain.
- Session maxes. Each session maxed out at a certain number – say, 30 participants. Using a sweet Add-On called formLimiter, I can choose when I went the Form to automatically shut down (hence why we needed 50 different Forms). So when 30 students have registered for a particular session, the Form is no longer accessible for anyone. This Add-On allows you to customize the message and add a URL to this message if someone tried to access it, so mine read:
Neat, right? But here is where the unique problem came into play. I had created all of the Forms, set the limits using formLimiter, but one question still nagged me: “If 50 students are all completing a sign-up Form at the same time, and the limit is 30, what happens?”
So, I tested. Went to a class of 25 students and set a random Form to max out and close down at 10 responses. My worst Form fears came true – all of the students were allowed to complete the Form. It didn’t shut down in time. Although on my end, in the destination response spreadsheet, it only allowed the first 10 people that registered. So, it kind of shut down the responses, but the students registering wouldn’t know this. Ruh Roh.
I had a GHO with my friend Corey, and we talked about it. At some point in our conversation, I said, “If only we could administer some sort of a page refresh while students were on the registration site.” Technically, if the page refreshed and a session had filled up, the form would no longer be accessible – which is what we wanted to happen.
And then, it dawned on us:
Adding a page break to a Form, in essence, creates a refresh. So I edited my Form, added four page breaks within the registration, and tested again. And, lo and behold, it worked. When my class of test subjects were completing the Form, if they were on Page 3 of the Form and the Form filled up to its max at the same moment, going to Page 4 resulted in the “Sorry, this Session is now filled!” Yes, I was elated. Which moves us onto…
4. Custom email messages to registrants. In each breakout session Form, I used an awesome Add-On called Form Notifications. This allows you to send a customized email to users that complete each Form. So, for example, after a student registered for Dorm Room design, he/she received an automatic email from me that read, “Thanks for registering for Dorm Room Design at 10:10 in Room 83. See you there!”
5. Set the response destination. I changed the response destinations for all of the breakout sessions to go to one Google Spreadsheet. So in the end I had one spreadsheet with 50 different sheets within – this made it super easy to disseminate rosters to individuals running the sessions, and rescued me from applying sharing rights to 50 different spreadsheets.
6. Put it all together. I had all of the Forms linked on separate Google Docs and embedded them into the Google Site, because – at least for me – its easier and faster to edit a Google Doc than a Site.
So, there you have it. For the TL/DR folks: I used Google Forms, the formLimiter and Form Notifications Add-Ons, Google Sites and Google Docs to run a registration event with 50 breakout sessions. Using these tools, you can have Forms close down when they reach a certain number of registrants, and you can set custom emails for each Form to be sent to registrants upon sign-up. Form page breaks are super important if you are expecting numerous people to access these Forms at the same time.
Hopefully that makes sense. Contact me for clarification if you need it – oh, and one more thing. Someone asked me how long it took to build the site and create 50 unique Forms with custom limits and notifications. Not counting the inevitable touch-ups and whatnot, the process took me all of Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and half of Return of the Jedi. It’s lovely background noise, don’t you think?