✨Tutorial: Easy Student Consent Management in Microsoft 365

A simple way to gather and tabulate informed student consent (or the lack thereof) for your use of recordings, AI tools, and more.

[image created with Dall-E 3 via ChatGPT Plus]

Welcome to AutomatED: the newsletter on how to teach better with tech.

Each week, I share what I have learned — and am learning — about AI and tech in the university classroom. What works, what doesn't, and why.

In this fortnight’s Premium edition, I present a Tutorial for efficiently managing student consent in Microsoft 365. This is an easy-to-implement, effective, and generalizable way to gather and tabulate your students’ consent (or lack thereof) for your use of recording software in class or in professor-student meetings or for your use of AI tools with their work.

🖼️ The Big Picture

In my recent ✨Guide to Ethically Using AI with Student Data, I present seven options:

  • 🛑 Option 1: Don’t Run Student Data Through AI

  • 🦺 Option 2: Limit to “Completely Safe” Categories

  • 🏰 Option 3: Stay Within Your Ecosystem

  • 🗣️ Option 4: Change the Consent Paradigm

  • 🥷 Option 5: Pseudonymize or Anonymize

  • 💻 Option 6: Use Local LLMs

  • 🔀 Option 7: A Combination of the Above

In this Tutorial, I explain how to reduce the cost and inconvenience of recording student consent in the Microsoft ecosystem while improving transparency and communication with your students. This sort of solution is needed if you take Option 4 in the aforementioned Guide.

But why might you take Option 4 and attempt to change the consent paradigm with your students?

Here is an extended excerpt from the Guide of some of the considerations:

Another option would be to get explicit written consent from students in order to use any of their data with AI tools.

In my experiences discussing with students whether they consent to me using their data, they always appreciate being asked, even if the data and use case are completely safe (and not covered by FERPA). Why? They tell me that they know that the university and their professors have access to so much of their data, but that they wish it were more transparent how it is being used. They appreciate being respected and included in the process of teaching them and assessing their work.

Given that I think that this general desire amongst students for greater data transparency is more than reasonable, it is my view that it is worth trying to respect. In general, professors should be honest and they should be in the position to convince (reasonable) students that their uses of student data are worthwhile and worth consenting to.


My view is that relying completely on consent — whether the data in question is completely safe, personally identifiable, or whatever — is too extreme.

For me, the clearest exception cases to such a broad blanket policy are uses of student data that are completely safe (not even in principle personally identifiable) where it is costly or inconvenient to get consent and there are serious benefits of me running such data through AI tools.

The next clearest are cases where the data is personally identifiable in principle, but where I can take reliable steps to make it not personally identifiable in actuality (e.g., anonymize it, per Option 5) and where it is stored in an ecosystem I am already relying on to protect personally identifiable student data like sensitive emails. And I would even go so far as to suggest that consent is not morally required or needed in cases where I am using AI tools in such an ecosystem on data that is personally identifiable.

The less clear cases are cases where the AI tools are third-party like Fireflies.ai, Otter.ai, Zapier, or Make. Even if the relevant data is not personally identifiable in actuality, these are cases where consent should be sought because of the increased risk, the expectation of students to not have their data used this way (or their lack of expectation that it would be used this way), and so on. I will discuss this sort of mixed or combination strategy below in the discussion of Option 7…

(This is to set aside the question of conformity to my university’s data classification and usage policies, which are somewhat idiosyncratic. Professors should be aware of those institutional policies with which they must be compliant.)

With these considerations and alternative Options in mind, let’s consider one simple way to make large scale consent acquisition, management, and recording much simpler, at least within the Microsoft ecosystem.

📝 Step 1 - Create Form(s)
for Collecting Consent

The first step in simplifying the process of acquiring student consent is to create a structured and clear method for gathering their permissions. Utilizing Microsoft Forms provides an efficient and user-friendly way to achieve this. With Microsoft Forms, you can design customized forms that specifically cater to your needs, ensuring that all necessary information is collected in an organized manner. This not only streamlines the process but also enhances transparency and trust with your students by clearly communicating what they are consenting to.

Creating these forms involves setting up fields to capture essential details, such as the student's name and email address, and presenting the consent options in a straightforward format. Additionally, as I will show below in the subsequent Steps, the responses can be easily managed and recorded within the Microsoft ecosystem, making it convenient for future reference and compliance purposes.

Let’s get started! Here is how to proceed:

  1. Sign in to Microsoft Forms using your institutional Microsoft 365 account.

  2. Create a new form:

    • Navigate to forms.office.com.

    • Click the "New Form" button.

    • Title the form (e.g., "Class 123: Professor-Student Meetings Consent Form").

  3. Add a description at the top that discloses what you are planning to do with the relevant student data. This description should outline what you are requesting that the student consent to.

Obviously, the Form that your description ought to take is complicated and context-sensitive. In this Tutorial, my focus isn’t on the details of an ethically good and legally compliant description. However, I will flag a few of the complications here, using an excerpt from my ✨Guide to Ethically Using AI with Student Data. Note that this is an excerpt focused on the specific case of using student data with AI tools, but the points generalize to recordings and other cases where student consent is needed:

When seeking student consent for using their data with AI tools, we must recognize and address the challenges of ensuring genuinely informed consent. The complexity of AI technologies, coupled with the intricate implications of data usage, may not be readily understood by all students. I have found this to be true in my own experimentation with consent-based solutions at my institution.

For instance, a student might consent to their data being used for 'enhancing learning algorithms,' not fully realizing this could entail detailed analysis of their interaction patterns and potentially sensitive performance metrics.

To tackle this, educators should provide clear, comprehensive explanations of what data is being used, how it is being processed, and what the outcomes might be. This could involve simplified briefings, examples of data use cases, or even Q&A sessions where students can express concerns and request further information. Ensuring that consent is truly informed not only respects student autonomy but also fortifies trust in educational uses of technology, making it crucial to invest time and resources in educational initiatives that enhance understanding of AI's role and impact in the learning environment.

  1. Add the first question to capture the student's name:

    • Click "Create your first question" (the plus sign).

    • Choose "Text" as the question type.

    • Label it "Your Name".

    • Make it a required question.

  2. Add the second question to capture the student's email address:

    • Click "Add new question".

    • Choose "Text" as the question type.

    • Label it "Email Address".

    • Make it a required question.

  3. Add the third question for consent:

    • Click "Add new question".

    • Choose "Choice" as the question type.

    • Label it as you like (e.g., "Do you consent to the above?").

    • Provide three options: "Yes", "No", and "Not sure".

    • Make it a required question.

  4. Preview and test your form:

    • Select "Preview" to see how your Form will look on both computer and mobile devices.

    • Test out your Form by answering the questions in Preview mode and then select "Submit".

    • To keep editing your Form, select "Back".

Here is what you will end up with:

  1. Repeat this process for all the cases where you expect to need to acquire student consent for this class.

The second step in our process involves linking the responses from the Microsoft Forms created in Step 1 to Excel for easier management and analysis.

We will create "source” spreadsheets for each Form to store individual responses and then consolidate these into a single "destination" spreadsheet. By linking each Form’s responses to a dedicated "source" spreadsheet, you ensure that all data is organized and accessible in a structured manner. Subsequently, the "destination" spreadsheet will aggregate these responses, allowing you to see at a glance which students have given consent and which have not.

For instance, in my toy example, we end up with a “destination” spreadsheet that looks like this, dynamically filled based on student responses:

This method not only simplifies the process of tracking consent but also helps in maintaining a high level of organization and clarity, crucial for both compliance and communication purposes.

Note: I highly recommend that you complete the below steps in the non-browser-based version of Excel 365. With a Microsoft 365 license, you can always open a spreadsheet in the desktop-based version of Excel 365 by right clicking on it in the browser and then clicking “Open” > “Open in desktop.” The browser-based version has less functionality and you will likely run into issues using it.

Let’s continue. Here are the sub-steps:

  1. Create a "source" workbook:

    • In the Microsoft Form, navigate to the "Responses" tab.

    • Click the "Open results in Excel" button to create a new Excel workbook in your OneDrive (this will contain your "source" spreadsheet) and then click “Continue.”

    • Name the "source" workbook appropriately (e.g., "Professor-Student Meetings Consent Workbook") and name the first spreadsheet in it — the “source” spreadsheet for this Form — correspondingly (“Professor-Student Meetings Consent Spreadsheet”).

  2. Repeat for each of the Forms you created in Step 1:

    • Follow the same process to create a separate Excel workbook for each Form.

Another Note: In Excel, a “workbook” is a collection of individual spreadsheets — or “worksheets” — stored in a single .xlsx file.

The next step is to create a “destination” workbook that gathers all of the responses from the "source” spreadsheet(s).

  1. Create a new “destination” workbook from scratch (blank for now):

    • Open Excel on your desktop (see above for Note on this subject).

    • Create a new blank workbook and name it (e.g., "Class 123 Consent Aggregation Workbook").

    • As above, name the first spreadsheet in it — the “destination” spreadsheet — correspondingly (“Class 123 Consent Aggregation Spreadsheet”).

  2. Format the “source” spreadsheets in an organized and consistent manner:

    • In each spreadsheet, order the columns to reflect the order of the questions, if they aren’t in the appropriate order already.

    • Bold their names if you like.

Here is how my “source” spreadsheets look (note that there are built-in fields for “Id”, “Start time”, “Completion time”, “Email”, and “Name” — these are either supplied by the user’s account login or the Form itself, and I will discuss them below):

  1. Link each of the “source” spreadsheets to the “destination” spreadsheet:

    • The best strategy to do this is with Excel’s Power Query functionality.

    • To use it, navigate in your "destination" workbook to the "Data" tab on the ribbon.

    • Click on "Get Data" > "From Other Sources" > "Blank Query" (or launch Power Query Editor directly).

    • In the Power Query Editor, click on "New Source" > “File” > “Excel Workbook”.

    • Navigate to the first "source" workbook stored in your OneDrive and import its “source” spreadsheet.

    • Next, click on "Close & Load To" under the "Home" tab on your ribbon.

    • Select the “Table” radio button and “New worksheet”.

    • The data from the “source” spreadsheet will now be loaded into your "destination" workbook as a new spreadsheet.

    • In your “destination” workbook, delete the “Query” spreadsheet that gets automatically added alongside the new spreadsheet.

    • Repeat for any other “source” spreadsheets you have — add them as new spreadsheets in your “destination” workbook via Power Query, deleting each “Query” spreadsheet that gets automatically along the way.

  2. Set each Power Query to refresh at a regular interval:

    • Select a cell (any cell) within one of the “source” spreadsheets that you have added as new spreadsheets within your “destination” workbook.

    • Go to “Data” in the top ribbon.

    • Click the “Refresh All” dropdown > “Connection Properties”.

    • Adjust the settings to your liking. I prefer “Refresh every 15 minutes” and “Refresh data when opening the file” (both). (You can also always manually refresh all, as needed.)

    • Press “OK”.

Now you need to connect the spreadsheets’ contents. Within the “destination” workbook, you need a formula that draws the Form responses from the “source” spreadsheets into the “destination” spreadsheet.

In particular, you need a formula that can handle the fact that students will respond to the consent Forms in an unpredictable order.

However, you know who your students are — what their names are and what their email addresses are — and you can use this knowledge with a formula to “look” for their names when they appear in the “source” spreadsheets. Here’s how…

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