Wednesday, May 11, 2005

It's Finals Week

One thing that gets a lot of discussion on my campus but very little attention in national discussions of educational technology is online gradebooks and managing course grades electronically. For years we had a home grown Campus Gradebook that was an outgrowth of Plato and that had some nice functions that are not in the commercial course management systems. One of those functions was to be able to sum say 15 different homework scores and delete the lowest 3 scores. A lot of instructors developed their teaching approach to rely on that function. But it is not in our course management system and I have not emphasized that function in my discussions with the WebCT company regarding the future development of their software. There are some other functions, a good example is producing graphs of histograms that are available to the students, which should be in the software but aren't there at present. (That will be in the next version of the software, but we won't implement that for at least a year.)

My solution has been to write some spreadsheets that can do these things. Here are some brief descriptions and links to a couple of these spreadsheets. It occurred to me to list these on the site. I was kind of surprised to find that there was no category for this sort of thing. Apparently grading is not teaching and so doesn't belong, or so it seems. But instructors do put in a fair amount of effort in computing grades and communicating those to their students. This is a place where the technology can help.

I actually wrote those spreadsheets over a year ago, but as far as I know they have not been used much if at all on my campus. (A support provider at Purdue told me they were quite useful.) So here I'd like to make a different point. How should awareness of these spreadsheets be promoted? The IT organization can only officially support a limited number of key applications because we have only so many staff and they already work quite hard in delivering the support they provide. But, of course, any member of the community with a little insight and effort can develop a tool like my spreadsheets that are potentially useful to others. The IT organization has some responsibility, in my opinion, to facilitate that type of sharing without itself being obligated to provide support for these community developed efforts. Merlot is potentially a way to "make such a market" but frankly I believe it aggregates at too high a level. I'd like to see a Merlot site just for my campus. We are a big campus and in some cases too big for community. But I think there would be more trust of something developed here and trying that out, then something from elsewhere that is available at

If you are a consumer in such a market the operative expression is caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. It is in that sense that I offer up my spreadsheets. I know some of this does happen with other community developments, but the IT organization is not involved as facilitator. It should play that role. I hope we can move into that position in the not too distant future.

No comments: