For students’ sake, use your LMS’ gradebook

If you haven’t taught online before, you may never have used an online gradebook (though many who do teach only F2F still use the gradebook in their LMS). In terms of helping me manage the unpleasant tasks of teaching, I think the gradebook is especially helpful. It will likely save you hours (like, many hours) of work in your semester.

Even if you have a method of keeping track of grades that already works for you, I encourage you to use the gradebook in your LMS. (And you know me–I don’t encourage folks to try things that are too burdensome for little payout.) Here’s why:

  • If you keep a separate system, it is either inaccessible to students or they have to go outside of the LMS to access it. Everything in the LMS helps students stay organized. They are better able to take responsibility for their grade if it is within the system they are already working in.
  • When you create assignments in your LMS, you will assign each assignment a category and a point value or letter grade. If you DON’T do this, students will have to return to wherever it was where you wrote this information (yeah, probably the syllabus), which, again, means one more click, one more link, more more thing to open. All of these wick away student energy for thinking, which is the point of the class.
  • Your LMS will weight grades for you–and for your students. Yes, some still may write to you to ask what they need to earn on the final to earn an A in the course, but far fewer will be confused about their grades than will be otherwise.
  • Your LMS may give you the option of rolling grades directly from your gradebook into your grade recording system, such as Banner. You can still review them and make changes, rounding that 79% up to a B- if you want, but you don’t have to hand enter every grade.
  • You can run reports from your gradebook that help you see patterns in student learning. Let’s say a student is failing. With just a few clicks, you can see the problem. Is he just missing a bunch of assignments from a certain period of time, suggesting a problem outside of school that interrupted his learning? Or did he fail to demonstrate mastery of a whole unit–for example, failing the homework, the quiz, and the exam over the skeletal system but not over the circulatory one? Or maybe he passes every homework assignment but is failing the tests, suggesting that he needs some test-prep and test-taking help? When you (and he) can see all this information at once, you can more effectively target the intervention (how to ask for an extension of he is ill, reviewing course content about the skeletal system, a study buddy for the class or how to use the tutoring center).
  • Your LMS’ gradebook can probably do everything you want it to, including adding extra credit, adding a curve, or dropping a student’s lowest quiz grade.

I recommend using a weighted grade system rather than points in your LMS. Dropping an assignment (I never add them) from a course is much easier if assignments are weighted than if they are points-based. So, for example, if 50% of a course grade is based on weekly response papers, students grades are not tremendously affected if you reduce the number of response papers from 15 to 14; each paper, if they are equally weighted, goes from contributing 3.33% to 3.57% of the final grade. In short, you can be flexible in changing requirements without dramatically changing grades. That’s just a lot messier to do in a point-based system.

Love the smell, feel, and sense of control that an old fashioned gradebook gives you? I get it. No one ever played schoolteacher as a child so they could enter grades online. But if you try it, you’ll probably like it, and I know that your students will too.

Girl at a Window (also known as The Daydreamer), 1650 - Nicolaes Maes

Above, Girl at a Window Known as a Daydreamer (1650-1660) by Nicholaes Maes shows a girl looking toward the viewer from an open window. Her chin rests on her hand; her elbow rests on a pillow; peaches frame the window. Don’t let your students wonder what their grades are. Use an online, always up-to-date gradebook.

 

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  1. “Yes, some still may write to you to ask what they need to earn on the final to earn an A in the course.”

    This is a question that I always get after the last “regular” test of the semester. In order to take care of it, I weigh the grades differently than I normally do in the syllabus, to facilitate this calculation. Of course, I always mention this in an email, and provide a formula they can use to answer questions such as these.

    “Your LMS may give you the option of rolling grades directly from your gradebook into your grade recording system, such as Banner. You can still review them and make changes, rounding that 79% up to a B- if you want, but you don’t have to hand enter every grade.”

    Not all of them do, so I’ve spent the last 20 years working on a computer program to process grades and write the output in various formats to make this automatic. (My typical class size has been 75-80 students for the past twelve years.) This is especially since Arizona State only started using Canvas a couple of years ago, and I’d been using Moodle, which does not have an automatic connection to ASU’s grade file (as far as I know).

    I’ve found that if you’re using Canvas, you really are much better off using the gradebook to handle overall grades. It is possible to upload and download grades, but the format for their CSV files is complicated.

    The thing I don’t like about using LMS’s goes back to a comment I made in an earlier post: Every one of them has their own way of doing things, and once you have three or four types, it is easy to mix up what you need to do to accomplish certain tasks.

    “You can run reports from your gradebook that help you see patterns in student learning.”

    Usually LMS gradebooks allow you to view all of the grades for one particular student on a single page.

    “Your LMS’ gradebook can probably do everything you want it to, including adding extra credit, adding a curve, or dropping a student’s lowest quiz grade.”

    The key word is “probably” here. Years ago, I had a course coordinator who asked for the median scores on tests, as well as the mean, number of A’s, etc. I’m not sure that LMS’s are programmed to calculate medians.

    Another, more recent, problem is the following. My policy for A+ grades is that students need to get (at least) 100%; I don’t curve those, even though I curve A’s, B’s, C’s, etc. Canvas (which is what ASU is using) allows you to curve grades, but you cannot specify a range that begins with 100%. I eventually solved this problem by using 99.99%, but the fact that I had to kludge it was annoying. (Needless to say, my grading program has no problem with this.)

    Getting away from specific examples of things that the LMS might not be able to do, you’ll find that you’d like your LMS to have a feature that it currently doesn’t.

    For instance, Canvas offers an application called SpeedGrader which allows you to take student submissions and annotate them. After playing around with it, I decided on using the Point Annotation tool. Now, when you go from test to test, it will keep track of what color the annotations are, but it will NOT keep track of which annotation tool you’ve chosen. That means I select Point Annotation (which makes the screen reload), leave comments, move to the next test (which also makes the screen reload), select Point Annotation again (which makes the screen reload), leave comments, etc., for 80-100 tests.

    Now one might think that if someone realized how important it was to remember the color that was used last, you’d think that they’d also realize it was important to remember which tool was used last. Nope.

    And the Canvas process means I have to wait 6 months until the community votes on whether to include this feature, and another 6 months to get it written in.

    Another feature of Canvas led indirectly to what was probably my biggest mistake I made during Spring 2020. Canvas also allows you to download the student submissions, edit them, and upload them. That meant that I could use my iPad to leave hand-written comments (and math formulas). The problem was that Canvas was having trouble uploading the corrected files, and it was something that was happening “on their end”.

    So I contacted Tech Support, and they said they’d work on it. Three weeks later, they were no closer to solving the problem — they got the same error when they tried to upload graded tests from their accounts. (Yes, I know this is a potential FERPA violation, but they wanted to see whether they could upload it themselves.)

    My mistake was waiting three weeks until using a different method to leave comments (Point Annotation, which had its own problem; see above). Luckily, the students realized that we instructors also were having trouble adjusting, but I should have told Tech Support to forget about it earlier.

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