May 11th, 2006

krazy koati

Never get your day's work done

I wanted to upload my programming course grades to the registrar's system. So far, I've escaped with my life, but not with my grades uploaded. I wanted to weight the homework average, midterm exam, and final exam equally, but had to modify that to 33-33-34 percent because the registrar's designers never imagined anyone would have a fractional anything anywhere ever. (I also can't give a student more than the maximum normal marks for an assignment, wrecking an easy way to give extra credit.) The homework average ... I can't do by Gradebook, the online score-entry system. (With a teaching assistant grading half the course there's no sensible way to record grades except putting them on a server we both access. Also I can let students see scores -- and remarks -- as soon as they're entered, turning the wave of end-of-term complaints that I entered scores wrong into a steady trickle of corrections.) Apparently I'm the first Gradebook user who ever wanted to average scores.

But: you can import scores from Gradebook to the registrar's system. That uses an Excel-embedded thingy in a web page to make it not work with anyone who isn't running Internet Explorer, on a Windows XP system, with security turned down, but does let you do integer-arithmetic averages. Note the second person pronoun: the registrar's system imports at most eight scores per student and the final exam. You can't have more. After all, what madman would have nine homework assignments and a midterm exam?

The secretary bugging me for my grades said I could upload them; I pointed out I can't fit nine homeworks plus a midterm score into eight slots. I'm a mathematician; I know the Pigeon-Hole Principle. She suggested I sum up or average the scores before uploading them. I pointed out there's no way to sum together or average scores on Gradebook. Oh. Next approach: you can export scores from Gradebook to an Excel spreadsheet, by the intuitive path of going to ``Item Management'', ``Enter Scores By Item'', selecting an item (Homework 1, say, or Midterm, though it doesn't matter), going to the `Export' button, and selecting every item in the course. This opens a new window, since if you didn't pop open new browser windows now and then users would think the computer broken, and it creates a .asp file which, once you change the extension to .xls, can be opened by Excel.

There's even a button to claim to import items from an Excel spreadsheet. It reports the file is a bad format and cannot be uploaded, even if I use the template file given as an example by the page. Tech support, ever-ready with useless advice, suggested the problem was I was saving the spreadsheet in ``Microsoft Excel'' format, when ``it should be in Windows format.'' It's hard sometimes pretending to have confidence in the computer centre. And again I ask: did any of the people designing these systems ever test them even a single time?

Trivia: John Harrison's H-3 maritime clock (completed 1757) contained 753 separate parts. Source: Longitude, Dava Sobel.

Currently Reading: Old London Bridge, Patricia Pierce.