July 20th, 2005

krazy koati

Long after school is through

A former student asked for a brief e-mail of recommendation for a job. While I'm swamped in writing stuff I'm happy to do this sort of thing, and as it happens, the class she was in was relevant to the job, so I could write something useful. But to try getting some specifics about the student I looked up her grade records from that term.

The school has this lovely online system, a convenient repository for lecture notes, homeworks, answers, a forum, anonymous e-mail, the works. It includes a gradebook, basically, a very dumb, Javascript-implemented spreadsheet. Because of this you can't use down-arrow or return to move to the next student; you tab twice (once to get out of the grade cell, once to get out of comments). And it can't figure homework or overall averages. You can't enter grades for several assignments at once. It reports means and standard deviations, but won't ignore zeros representing assignments not turned in. You can't enter cutoff grades for the A, B, C, et cetera, and plot grade counts to see if the curve is reasonable. You have to export the reports to a real spreadsheet for this. But at least it stores grades on a server independent of a home computer and the backup you were ``just about'' to do, right?

A-ha! But. It turns out this handicapped junior spreadsheet with so many flaws has one further flaw: after the term is safely over it throws away your grade records. This surprise option feature is not mentioned in the documentation; I foolishly assumed that since there were still archives of the class forums, assignments, and such, that those silly little grades would be kept around too.

I don't know if they wonder why the web support structures get such abysmal reviews and feedback from faculty. Certainly the shortcomings of the gradebooks were bad enough, but to make them deliberately destructive of archived information -- I can't explain it. It's as though they did a careful survey of what faculty needed, and set about eliminating those features from their product.

And now I know to keep my grades on my computer next term.

Trivia: The Grumman quality control inspector who checked out Lunar Module 5, Eagle, was Herman Clark. Source: First On The Moon: A Voyage With Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin E Aldrin Jr, ``Written with'' Gene Farmer, Dora Jane Hamblin.

Currently Reading: Tudor Historical Thought, F J Levy.