Midterms and the 1:1

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As I’ve mentioned before, I was dreading mid-terms because it would break my paperless streak. I ended up breaking my paperless streak before midterms anyway, but I still wasn’t looking forward to the reams of paper I would not only have to photocopy but, more important, lug various places. A colleague and I were discussing this and she reported that she in fact was going to use the computer for mid-terms, that she would email the LanSchool file to each proctor and have them turn the internet off (mentioning, rightly so, that the no internet was less about cheating and more about distraction). So with her as a model, I decided to try it out myself (thanks, EU).

Here’s what I did:

  • I only did it with one class. It was the only exam I was giving during the Tuesday morning slot, so I could manage it that way.
  • I decided against emailing the LanSchool file to the proctor. Partly because it was short notice, and partly because, with LanSchool, I could (and would rather) monitor them myself.
  • The Friday before exams in class, I checked LanSchool. The people that needed to restart, restarted until everyone was showing up.
  • I had already photocopied the exam, so no saving paper here, and the exam itself wasn’t on ItsLearning, but they submitted it on ItsLearning.
  • The morning of, I rechecked LanSchool (everything was fine) and, because I had photocopied the exam, I gave the option of doing it either on paper or on the computer. All elected to do it on the computer.
  • With another class, I ended up giving them the option of using the computer. I hadn’t necessarily checked this class on LanSchool but felt secure enough with it. The ones that used the computer, very much appreciated having the option (and many of those that didn’t hadn’t brought their computer to school because they didn’t think they would be able to use it).

Here are some thoughts in retrospect. These are not necessarily concerns (though some will sound as if they are) but just things I realized doing it for the first time.

  • The internet probably didn’t need to be disabled. Distraction I don’t think would have been an issue.
  • As for cheating, I’d be more concerned about them having a review sheet on their computer than using the internet to cheat.
  • The exam, at least to some extent, is more public than on paper. On paper, I collect it, then distribute it to go over, then collect it again. On the computer, at least a copy of the answers is available both through their own file and my corrected / graded file that I will upload. Even multiple choice, which I will do for finals on ItsLearning after this, while it can me deactivated, still through screen shots can be preserved in a way that a paper exam cannot.
  • The grading is much easier on the computer. I much prefer it (but I prefer all grading on the computer).
  • Out tech person told EU that she has them do it in TextEdit, which has some properties that make it more secure than Word (she also then blocks Word for the review sheet concern). I’ll have to look into this.

That’s about it. A success. So thanks, EU, for pushing me to do it, and I’ll do more of it during finals.

Looking Ahead to Year End Grades in Engrade

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After that lengthy post on computing mid-year grades in Engrade, I almost thought that I was going to have to scrap all of that to make year end grades a bit easier. But the math department (thank you, BC, CB, and HM) has assured me that I don’t. Here’s what happened.

If you use the system I explained in the previous post, the mid-year exam is an assignment in the mid-year average (rather than a separate class, as I suggested as an alternate approach). This is fine for mid-year averages. I was afraid, however, that, come year end grades, because the exam was not a separate class, I would not have anything to pull in to year end grades for the mid-term exam and I would have to reenter them as an assignment in the year-end grades.

The other option, though, (and here’s where I needed the math confirmed) is to pull in the mid-year grade to the year end grade, make it 50% (20, 20, 10 for q1, q2 and mye), and then pull in q3, q4, and fe for the year end grade. The math department explained that the average would be the same and an experiment of my own confirmed this.

Mid-Year Averages in Engrade

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We’ve adopted Engrade as our on-line grading system, and teachers seem to be finding it easy and helpful. One of the reasons for the shift (I think) was to make computing mid-term and year-end grades easier. I didn’t know how to do this previously (I’d been using Engrade for a few years) but just checked it out tonight (after some initial guidance from KR). Here are some thoughts / instructions. This is only what I did. There are other options, which I’ll outline at bottom.

  1. Begin on your ‘Classes’ page (click ‘Classes’ at the top left in the blue menu, but not a specific class in the dropdown menu).
  2. At bottom left, click on ‘Average Classes’. (This will take you to a version of the settings page you see when you create a normal class.) The screen below will appear.Screen Shot 2013-01-22 at 8.16.36 PM
  3. Name your class whatever your class is named plus MY Avg (or something similar), e.g. Medieval is a class, so Medieval MY Avg is the name of the MY average class.
  4. Change the 2013 in the pulldown menu beneath the name to 2012-2013.
  5. Make the grading period 2.
  6. Class 1 and Class 2 below are where you pull in the grade from an existing class, so one of these would be Medieval GP1 and one Medieval GP2.
  7. The Weight percentages at right are 40.
  8. Below is the Assignment heading. This is where the midterm exam will go. Name it, put in the number of points (ultimately this doesn’t matter; Engrade will extract a percentage based on this and the students’ grades), and weight it 20%.
  9. Save, and you should be all set.

A few variables / options to discuss.

  • #2: Another option (thanks to MS) is to, rather than Average classes, make another regular class. The advantage to this is that you can create different ‘assignments’ within that class (as you would in a normal class) for each section of the midterm, thus giving students more information about their midterm grade. You would then follow the procedure above to Average Classes but use the Mid-term class as a third class, with the weights the same, and no assignments (because the mid-term is now a class). The only problem here is that Engrade only allows five classes to be referenced, which means that you can’t use this for finals, unless you can add finals to the mid-term ‘class’ and change the weight (would the math add up the same?).
  • #4: The year associates the class with other classes of the same year. Your other classes are 2012-2013. If you leave your mid-term average class as 2013 it will always stay at the top of your list. Making it 2012-2013 will let subsequent quarters be placed above the mid-term average class in your list.
  • #5: This is an annoying decision to have to make. If you make it GP3, you separate it out from your existing classes but either associate it with your quarter 3 classes (which, logically, would be GP3) or force your quarter 3 classes to be GP4 (and your q4 classes to be GP5). I made mine GP2. Even though it makes my GP2 list very long, the naming convention (#3) makes that list a bit easier to navigate.

That’s about it. I might suggest doing it while referring to this so you can see it, and trying a class without inputting any grades just to see how the different factors affect things. You can easily delete the mid-year average class before any numbers go in if you want to change something.

iPhone Contract

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I try not to participate in the propagation of e-phemera: forwarding pithy memes, lots of exclamation points and hyperbole, declarations of life-altering humor, etc., but this I think is worth breaking / bending my rule.

It’s circulating, so you might have seen it already, but I thought this was very well done. It’s a contract that a mom gave her son along with his new iPhone. I like it, at the risk of waxing sentimental, because it does what I strive to do in my teaching / dealing with kids: combine the common sensical, the proscriptive, and the big picture caring.

Here’s the link. Check it out.

Two E-Assessment Tools Compared

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I’ve been using ItsLearning as much as I can this year for my assessments, partly as part of my paperless initiative, partly to save time grading; it seems like we as a school are committed to ItsLearning, so even assessments I had in other e-formats / platforms I’ve been converting this year to ItsLearning. In most classes, these assessments are either open-ended (short or long essays) or a few objective quizzes (periodic reading quizzes). But in my Latin 3/4/5 class ItsLearning quizzes comprise the bulk of the class’ assessments.

The Latin 3/4/5 class has been worrying me, not so much because they’re grades are lower than I think they should be but because I’m getting the sense that they see or are beginning to see a disconnect between the work that they do and their performance on assessments; that’s a connection I have to draw more precisely. But they have also been saying that they don’t like the ItsLearning quizzes, that they find them too stressful and they feel they do worse on them than they should (which their grades bear out). A colleague of mine in the history department (EL) was saying that she herself likes to manipulate the distractors of a multiple choice assessment, i.e. she likes to cross out the wrong ones, which is of course is either impossible or more trouble than its worth on a computer. With all of this in mind, for our last quiz of the quarter today I decided to go back to the eggs.

The eggs are Promethean’s ActivExpression system (so called by me / us because their previous incarnation, the ActivVote system, looked like an egg; the new system does not but I transferred the term), my first foray into e-assessment. I decided to return to them partly because I didn’t feel like converting the quiz but more because I wanted to see if there was at least an affective disparity between taking a quiz on ItsLearning (which we had been doing) and taking a quiz on the eggs. I would have some data, but it would be imprecise at best; nonetheless, my non-statistician mind was ok with that as well.

The eggs were a huge success. Students did very well on the quiz, part of which is that it’s part of our mid-term review and the concept was a pretty basic one. But I asked them about it after class, and they pointed out the affective factors of the eggs. The eggs allow socialization between questions. Because everyone needs to answer before moving on, there is some down time (unless you’re the last one to answer) between questions. Students appreciated this on a basic level but also found it very relaxing. They also like the question-by-question immediate feedback rather than finding out at the end.

The downside to the eggs are that they are inefficient. The quiz today on ItsLearning would probably take the half time; waiting for everyone to answer before moving on can be time consuming. So the real question becomes is it worth it? Are the downsides to the eggs (efficiency and somewhat cumbersome creation interface) worth the upside (the affective effect of the eggs on students during quizzes)? I don’t have an answer to that. What about you?

Generational or Idiosyncratic Differences?


People in the school have said that a technological break of sorts exists within the school in terms of facility and comfort level with the 1:1, that the freshmen and sophomores are more technologically oriented, and more naturally comfortable doing, well, everything on the computer than even their couple-year elders. Students themselves have said this as have adults.

To add some data (though somewhat contradictory) to that, my Medieval Lit class is graphing one of Boccaccio’s stories. The x axis is the course of the narrative and the y axis is an interpretive element of their choice; they then plot each character through the narrative in terms of the intensity / significance of that interpretive element. To a group, all graphs are being done on paper. A few looked at me quizzically as I explained as if to say ‘How on earth could I do this on the computer?’ and when I mentioned Excel the looks became even blanker. Then the tentative question of doing it on paper was raised.

I did a similar exercise with my Classical Literature class in which they graphed Achilles’ anger in the Iliad. Simpler perhaps because there is only one character (this particular Boccaccio story has three), but to a group, all graphs were done on the computer. Some used Excel; some used LoggerPro (which I enjoyed telling my math / science colleagues about), but all were done on the computer.

Certainly, this could be an idiosyncratic difference between the two groups, but I wonder if it speaks to that fundamental difference somewhere between the ’95ers and the ’99ers (year they were born) in terms of how they view technology and its ability to be a seminal part of their lives.