Monday, July 20, 2015

Evangelizing the gradebook

My appreciation for a grade book is new. And like any recent convert, I'm evangelical.

I have resisted the grade book in many LMSs over the years. Until recently I had an uncomfortable relationship with grades. And what could possibly do columns, numbers and calculated fields better than an excel spreadsheet? There seemed to be no reason to learn to use this clumsy tool that I did not need.

But I have discovered that the grade book in many LMSs has much greater value than assigning a number to a spreadsheet (though it does that surprisingly well). And, with a little preplanning the LMS grade book won't lock me into a particular style of grading. In the following I will be using Blackboard's grade book or "grade center" as an example, because Blackboard is the LMS used at Linfield. Moodle and Canvas grade books work a bit differently but can achieve the same ends.

  • The grade book, when paired with my own rubrics, makes it easy to quickly grade assignments. Locating and downloading assignments is not necessary. Going back and forth from assignment to student list is not necessary.
  • The grade book gives me multiple ways to give feedback to students: A number, written feedback, and in-margin comments.
  • The grade book let's me give students "just-in-time" personal notes of encouragement or clarification.
  • The grade book let's me blind-grade when desirable. I can grade work without seeing student names - which encourages me to be more objective about my grading criteria.
  • The grade book presents me with ALL students' submissions of a single assignment in one place, making it easy to see patterns across the class.
  • The grade book presents me with ALL of a single student's work in one place, making it easy to see patterns for that student. 
  • The grade book tells me what is new. Until I started using the grade book, I looked at each discussion thread and each assignment every day to see what was new. Now I stop at the grade book first. The grade book presents an exclamation point (!) next to new work (posts, journal entries, quizzes, assignments).
  • When grading a student's discussion contribution, I see all of their posts in one collection.
  • When grading a blog or journal entry I can post comments on their writing, right from the grade book.
I know that timely and meaningful feedback is one of the key indicators of student success and satisfaction in an online course. Though my intentions have been good, I have found it hard to be prompt with feedback - until I mastered the grade book. In fact my home grown systems were far more clumsy than the one in my LMS.

I believe in setting a high bar for success in my courses. I also provide lots of ways to reach success: repeated attempts; alternative ways to complete assignments; optional assignments and more possible points than are necessary. Many of my students exceed the required work for an A.

Based on my rubric criteria, an "A" discussion post gets 6 points - though it is possible to get 7. Journal posts can get 4 but a 3.5 translates to an "A". I am able to assign bonuses for unexpected entries, risk taking, effort, creativity, insight. Each week I give students a points target. They know where they stand based on that target. My approach is not traditional and it is possible within the structure of the LMS grade book.

I'd love to hear how others are using their LMS grade book. Please comment below.