Developer Spotlight: Alice Keeler, Educational Technology Specialist
So welcome to another Developer Spotlight and this one we're really pleased to have Alice Keeler! Alice Keeler is a well-known figure in the Google Workspace development world. If you haven't heard about her you can definitely check her out at her properties at alicekeeler.com. But with that said, Chanel help me welcome Alice to the show. Hey Alice, great to have you here! I'm excited to be here. I love to share and and this is a great opportunity to interact with the community. So my first question for Alice is one I've always wanted to ask you in a public forum.
You're a mother of five, you're a high school math teacher, Google Certified innovator, your a Google Developer Expert (GDE), you're a Google Cloud innovator Champion, you've authored a dozen or so books. Seven! Two dozen or so Google Workspace add-ons. So my question Alice: when do you find time to sleep? You know, I get that question every day. And I do enjoy taking a nap. I do get lots of sleep. I have a lot of help, a lot of support. I would like to point out that while you say I do all of those things all that's true, I don't do laundry! [Laughter] We don't change diapers but that's mostly because my youngest is now 10 and my oldest is 19. But my
husband was a stay-at-home dad for a good portion of my kids growing up and so without really good support that doesn't really make it possible. Just one follow-on question. What led you from your background and your focus in education, right high school math teacher, what led you to become a developer and specifically what drew you into Google Workspace? Oh, gosh! That's actually a really good question. So you know when I first started teaching I started teaching before I started the credential program. And so I started in January, sorry, the credential program in February and in my credential classes they wheeled in this giant LCD projector and they said if anybody wants to use PowerPoint. And I'm like I do not know what PowerPoint is but I'm gonna do this and
so I started making just the worst PowerPoints and I got rid of the overhead projector. I think I only used it for one semester and I was making really bad PowerPoints for my math students and then I saw actually another educator from Fresno. I lived in Fresno for a long time, I now live in Kansas. And I saw him presenting on Google Docs. And you remember back in the day that moment when someone joins a document with you, it's like you know. And so then you know you go around and you
show other people just for that oh freak out moment! I mean no one freaks out anymore but at the time it was like super cool and so I just like I want to be like this guy. He was one of the first Google certified teachers which they now have branded Google Certified Innovator. And like that is my goal. So even though I'm like really, really good at using Microsoft and Access databases I literally just dumped it and I said: "I'm going to use Google tools because of the collaboration!". Like I don't care that I don't have as many items in the ribbon that I can do. I don't need those features. Most people don't use hardly any of them! The collaboration feature was really
it for me. That's all I really wanted. And so I started training teachers at my school and I realized quickly I'd get the same questions repeatedly. So I started a website just for the teachers at my school, 100 teachers at Clovis High, and then other people started picking up on that. And I on accident just kind of became known for teaching with Google Apps. And of course at the time really hardly anyone was doing it and then when Google Classroom came out I just wrote a blog post. Someone had sent me an email like "Hey Alice, could you do like 20 things you can do with Google Classroom?". And I'm like okay. So I wrote this post. Oh my gosh, this is pretty good.
I put on my own blog but then I expanded it out to 50. And I contacted a book publisher and I said: "I think I can write this into a book over the weekend". Just so we're clear, no you can't! But I did get it published. That was my first book and so I started going around to different schools and teaching teachers beyond my school how to use Google Apps. And then I was chatting with someone at Google one time and I'm like: "What are you doing?" because they weren't responding back to me. And they're like: "Oh, I'm coding". I said: "What are you coding?". And he said: "Google Apps Script". I'm like: "I'm gonna learn that!". I have bought several books on PHP and different coding things. Like I
just stock Twitter for educators saying like: "Why can't you do this in Google?". And I'm like: "Oh, oh, but you can!". And so I I now have 20, I think I have 23 add-ons that are officially approved. I have two that are in purgatory just waiting for the OAuth team to push it through. But I I really just love being able to create solutions and save teachers time. So I keep doing it. You just mentioned that you have an add-on with I think 30 million
users. I mean that itself is mind-blowing! But you have more add-ons out there that people can install. Where do you get the ideas for all these add-ons? All of them are just basically solving pain points. This one's not an official add-on but it's a good story. My husband teaches English which is like the worst job ever because you have to read a
lot of essays. And that's either just a giant stack of papers or, like the worst is, you know students doing it on a Google Doc and you gotta wait for school internet to load 140 Google Docs. That's terrible and I'm like: "I think that's not a good use of your time". So I sat in my kitchen for 20 minutes and I coded where it'll grab from Google Drive all 140 Google Docs in the folder, because Google Classroom automatically organizes it in a folder, and it puts all the paragraphs into a spreadsheet so you can read everybody's like it was a Google form.
You can give feedback in the Google spreadsheet and push it back to their Google Docs. I mean that just saves you hours and hours and hours. That's it, I just listen to people complain and I'm like: "Oh, yes there is a better way". So I do, I stock Twitter, I look at what people are complaining on there.
Just conversations I have with people. Somebody said something to me yesterday, I have a premium membership, so they signed in and wanted to know how they could, oh, I forget what it was. But I'm like "You know what I don't think it would be that hard". So that's probably what I'm gonna do with the rest of my day. I love how you just think: "It can't be that hard! I'm going to make an add-on". Yeah, that's a slippery slippery slope! I always think: "Oh, it'll be easy" and the next thing you know you're like not. So you've mentioned you've had like 20 plus of these add-ons
that you've created. You've probably got a lot more in the wraps or you've probably got a lot that you started and probably never seen the light of day. How is that to become a big part of your business, like I mean I know you're famously known for your presentation style, your blogging, your teaching, you're online. If anybody can ever watch you online you're amazing to watch as you do presentations. But add-ons is a big core of your business. I mean is it or like how do you structure? When I do give a presentation I have the audience members fill out a Google form and the Google form responses become my slides. So my entire presentation, a good chunk of it, is extemporaneous, really being
responsive, and interactive to my audience which is the message that I want to share when we use Google tools to teach with students. You know, it's not about being paperless and just slapping stuff online. That is not engaging. Stuff that was designed for paper is not engaging. You know using Google tools and that collaboration really brings up partnership with teachers and students and not just a paper delivery system. So even though I don't know anybody in the room, there might be 800 people at this keynote, I'm able to hear the voice of everyone in the room. So obviously, people like that. It's a very cool trick and they'll come up to me like: "How did
you do that?". I'm like: "You know, you got to learn to code. It's not as hard as you think it is". But it's a really good end for them to realize really what's possible. And they're not going to learn how to code. I don't know if you know this but teaching is really, really, really time consuming. So I have a few successes. My friend Gaby down in Peru, she just got her second add-on published. And that's, you know, because I interned with her. But most teachers just don't
have time for this. So in terms of saying like this is a big part of my business, a big part of my day, is I spend time coding, learning new things. And coding specifically so I can create things that help teachers. So I have an add-on that prints Google Forms. You know, you've got all of your
students that use Google Forms and then you go into Google Forms to give feedback. It's kind of trapped in there thinking that kids are going to go back to the Google Form to read the feedback that you left. They probably won't. They don't even read it when you put it on paper in front of their face. So I have coded so it'll grab the feedback comments that you leave in a Google Form and you can print it to a Google Doc so they can share it with the students as a Google Doc or they can print it on paper so the students can respond to and see the feedback that the teacher left.
I love what Chanel said earlier about your "can do style". Like you say: "I can do it. I can do it. I'll figure it out. I'll take this weekend and I'll figure it out". And we know that's not 100 percent always true that you can do it. But that said, you have figured a lot out. What would you tell somebody who wants to create their first Google Workspace add-on? What tips would you give that developer regardless of their background? I mean a pro coder or an educator starting out. How would you tell them to kind of embrace it and have that good weekend that you talk about? You know what's great about Google Workspace and coding Apps Script is it's multiple choice and the methods are really readable. It's
insert sheet. So when I first show people, you know, we type document app press period, get the active document press period, link, now look at all the things you can do with this. Why don't we just read it. Like it's very readable and it's like let's just map out your workflow. What do you want to do? You want it to do this, and then do this, then do this? Well honestly, it's from a drop down menu so it's really simple to get started. So what I encourage is like, I know it sounds dumb but just
code everything. Like yes, I can manually rename the Google Doc by clicking at the top left and just renaming it really quick, or I can like, you know, code that and theoretically two or three lines of code. It feels very satisfying but once you kind of get into the mentality of like: "Okay, I'm gonna start coding my workflows even on things that I know how to do because you know what you're looking for". And then as you read that drop down list and some of the documentation that you'll realize other like: "Oh, I can do that!" and it kind of snowballs from there. So you mentioned Alice that you have, I think, two add-ons in purgatory that they're waiting on the OAuth team. So again,
what Charles asked before. Someone who wants to publish the first add-on concerning OAuth. What for tips would you give them? I wrote a blog post for the Google Cloud Innovators and really detailing and outlining all of the steps. To be honest there are some hidden things in there that you kind of have to know somebody to realize that you have to do this. For example, I was really
struggling with getting mine authorized. And I didn't realize that I had to, when the pop-up comes up it says "Hey you want to authorize this add-on?", that I need to pause and use the URL at the top and I gotta awkwardly scroll through this URL to find the client ID and then pause on it for the video. Like I wouldn't have realized that I needed to do that without Clay Smith like: "Oh Alice, you didn't pause on the client ID". So I did go through and detail all of those steps so I think hopefully my blog post that I made would be a good resource. And I know some of the other GDEs have put out some similar things. There was a Twitter thread recently with really breaking down what are the different steps that you have to go through.
It's not fun the first time. Not gonna lie. It would be really great to have a mentor. But you know, once you've done it once then you really start to feel like: "I'm not really sure why this was such a big deal". You kind of get into a flow. So you bring up a super great point in that last answer and I think and you said it helps to have someone to ask. And one of the things that I love about your work, and you mentioned the Google Developer Experts, is you kind of are the teachers that keep teaching. Even though you're not necessarily, you know, in a teaching position when you're helping but you help other people learn and you share your information.
am? It was incredibly welcoming and where I'm feeling like I don't want to say anything because I will just really expose how stupid I am. But really quickly I learned that being a GDE isn't knowing about everything. It's about being in a community. And these are people who love to share and are supportive. That's why you're a GDE! It's because you're supportive of others. Now I don't feel embarrassed to put out what might be a dumb question or something super basic. No one
ever makes me feel that way. But this is a community that wants the community to be better. So if that's what you're about, helping others to be better, that's the qualification. Not being the expert in the room. So I remember the first time I saw you online I was introduced to you by other GDEs how said: "You have to check out Alice". And I actually saw one of your presentations
where you were teaching absolute novices. Someone who never saw Apps Script before. You were teaching App Script. I watched this entranced. The first thing that struck me was your patience. You patiently taught them through this. And you're absolutely right, as you were teaching them the light bulbs were going off of them like: "Oh, it worked!". And it was amazing to see how you brought
those people online. So I I thought that was super cool. I do have a question. Let's go back to add-ons for a second because there's another thing I know that you were kind of famously Infamous for where you actually shared a lot of code not via add-ons, right, so not everything's an add-on or not everything belongs in an add-on. Not every technology supports an add-on, right. And I know like your background is a lot, you've done a lot with Slides, probably as much or more than anybody with Sheets obviously things like classroom. But what other stuff do you do with Workspace that maybe isn't add-ons? Or I know you actually used to share stuff outside of add-ons because it was easier. Can you elaborate on it? My blog is a love letter to Google. So if you go
to alicekeeler.com I try to blog every day. That doesn't always happen, especially when I'm traveling. I probably have one of the most prolific educator blogs for how to teach with Google Apps and most of it's not add-ons. Most of it's not code although, you know, in the last
couple of years, because I do have so many add-on solutions, that is directly trying to help teachers, I do talk about them quite a bit. But you know, just even changing the theme editor. The theme builder in Google Slides and how to really innovate with that. So what I like to do is I like to go into the theme builder in Google Slides and delete all the layouts. And we add one for the teacher to asks a question, put a background color on it, and one for the students answer the question, put a different background color on it. It's slightly different formatting because I want them to be
able to put their name and I just have one for the question so I set up a Google Slides like this where I can then use the templates, or the layouts rather, from the drop down menu to ask the class a question. And instead of waiting for students to raise their hand which says: "Hey, I want a fast answer not a thoughtful answer". And you're only going to hear from the same one or two loud mouse, so in a class that would be me. Research shows it's our quietest students who have the most thoughtful answers. So I like to hear from everybody. So I just share the Google Slides with edit access. Sharing slides is risk free because you have version history. But then they each add a slide into the Google Slides using the other layout. So again I just restrict it down to two
layouts and then we see everybody's responses and that generates our class conversation because research shows that in a typical class period the teacher talks 90 of the time in the 90s and really we want to move that around to being the more the students are talking the more that they are learning. So when we can get the students to use Google Slides interactively, not as a presentation let me talk at you. I don't use Google Slides to talk at you I use Google Slides to talk with you. We get more thinking, more creativity, more learning. And we do feedback together instead of me going home and sacrificing family time to do feedback. We do it during class so it's more meaningful, it's better learning, and it really saves me a lot of time and that requires no code. Now that being said, I of course have an add-on for this. The add-on that I have is called Randomize Slides. And so that'll allows when you have all the students at a slide you can then
shuffle them so that it's who's going to go first. Aou know when we review student answers you don't always have time to go over 30 student responses. So by shuffling up their answers I can just get the first, you know, maybe two or three is enough to get us having a good conversation. I'd love to hear
from you because I know you are at the pulse. Where do you see technology to continue to intertwine in the classroom in the future? So I know obviously Google Workspace was huge. I know there's other topics and there's other technologies. There's also ways that we can integrate some
of our solutions together too, right. We've got some great third-party solutions that integrate Workspace in the edu manner. Where do you see or what's next, I guess, is the question or if you had your crystal ball? That is a great question. It's going to just be really rough going for the next few years in education. It's already really tough. We have a shortage of teachers. How are we going to educate kids to be creative, critical thinkers and we just have a real shortage of people that are 11 on kids. And without technology this solution is not going to be possible. But the world changed like three weeks ago. Chat GPT is my new favorite thing to use. I use it every single day.
If I'm writing something, I'm doing Chat GPT. I can put in the Chat GPT: "Write me a Google App Script that randomizes my slides". Honestly, I think it was more editing to make it actually work. Things do stretch. But still put it out there. But the beauty of that was, no actually, the code wasn't that good but I learned something. I'm like: "Oh I didn't know that you could do this
with Apps Script". But now that kids can write their essays using Chat GPT. And I'm a math teacher, photomath, and technology like this where you just hover over the math problem and it not only shows you the answer it shows you all of the steps ,that's been around for a while. And now you have Chat GPT just wipe in history class, English class off the map in terms of we can't teach like it's 1900 anymore. You know, valuing, putting the right answer on a line is not going to be the future. Almost immediately after Chat GPT came out you'll see different
mainstream tools like Canva Docs even has magic write. Today, Canva Cocs has magic write. And I think I saw a blog post that said Word is already planning to integrate Chat GPT. This is going to be our norm, is integrating with AI to get that basic stuff out of the way so that we can really do creative, critical thinking. So that educators spend their time not mindlessly grading what you wrote on the line but really interacting and personalizing. We're obviously going to see machine learning and artificial intelligence built into Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides and I am excited for it. I mean we're ready to have students be able to go further that's what Vygotsky's
zone of proximal development, you know. You can only get yourself so far but need someone to help you go further. And I think tools like this, they're going to be the norm integrated in. No sense beating your chest and trying to ban it. You've already lost so what are we going to do next and I think, obviously Google with workspace is not going to fold up and go home. That it's going to get better and it's going to be amazing. Now I think it's a great point you mentioned: we have to embrace it because A) it's
free to just go into the extensions menu and make some of those modifications. For example, I have one where students fill out a Google Form how you doing today and the answers go into a spreadsheet and then the teacher can respond they see what each student put in the spreadsheet and they give a personal response and then emails them out. But in the automated email response it says: "Your teacher has responded to you". So it's just a generic message. So you wanted to say, you know, "Mrs
Keeler has responded to you". You want it to have your name and do that. So just a really easy place to get started. It is looking for the red text, let's look for the red text. And things I've already coded, things that you can find on, you know, Stacks. Places where people share code and
to share because if I use a bounded script like I go to a Google Doc or I go to Google Sheets, I go to the extensions menu, it says Apps Script and I put my code there. If I share the Google Doc with a non-coder, non-coders don't want to look at your code! It will feel intimidating. We all know that I can share what I've made without having to share like: "Oh, go look at the code and do this".
There's almost nothing that makes it that easy to develop and publish share all in the same place. It's all in one step. Really one of the things I've noticed over the years of myself working with the community is there's a higher representation of educators, right. There's a lot
of folks like yourself with a background as a, you know, in classroom, trainer, or administrator, or, you know, someone who was an admin for New York City Schools, right, became a pretty big well-known developer. So a lot of folks are attracted to it. One of the questions I wanted to ask you, and you mentioned a little bit, but you know built in that accessibility. There's a known challenge with education is it's not the most, you know, well funded when it comes to building solutions, getting things done. It's a cost-effective solution. Isn't it something that's accessible, it's there. I mean is that something that helps teachers? Just it's at their fingertips. Let's say I want Post-it notes like legit ones and not the cheap ones that'll fall off, you know, because I can go into the office look at me some of those but if I want to order something it's going to take me months to get it. And that's a partial reason why teachers just buy their own supplies because just
getting something that you want, the bureaucracy of it can take months. So what's really nice about Apps Script is you might have an idea you want to do this and yeah maybe your school could buy some application or figure out how to do this for you. But you'll turn old and grey waiting for it to come. So if your school is a Google Workspace for Education school you just have access to have
the ability to just really quickly fix this. I had made a spreadsheet for my students a couple years ago and I I made a copy for each student and then I realized I had a typo. What teacher hasn't faced that. The problem is even with an add-on it is so super specific to that activity and exactly what I needed to correct. Well, literally while right after I took attendance when the students
are just doing their warm-up, it isn't very many lines of code to do a file iterator to run through every single student's Google Spreadsheet and I say: "Get cell C16 and replace the formula". And so within five minutes I was able to fix everybody's typo without giving them a new copy. And it's really this many lines of code so learning just a few tiny things like that is being able to take something and push out to all your students documents. The best reason to learn Apps Script educators is the 30 times you have to do everything sitting right in front of you every day. Alice always a pleasure talking to you. I wanted to ask you one final question. Where in the world will Alice be in 2023? I know you get to go all over the world, but what are you planning what are you doing? What's the future for you and what can folks look forward to in learning from you or seeing you produce? Yeah, thanks! Well, travel wise I'm gonna be at some educator conferences. I'm
the fetc tcea I'm going to be at Asti in Alaska. I'm keynoting in Canada for catpa or something like this. And I'm gonna be heading to Peru. I'm doing a presentation a couple weeks in Peru. So hopefully there's some places we'll be able to meet up. I'd love to have a coffee with any of you. But my goals for 2023 is really just to make it to 50 add-ons where every single add-on is a solution for teachers. That's what I'm working on. That is awesome, congratulations! [Music]