Laura Gibbs

Whose Gradebook is it anyway? (1) Swiss Army Gradebook

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Sep 30, 2017

I spent last weekend engaged in a mighty tussle with Canvas Support, trying to find a solution I could implement for the incorrect "missing" labels appearing in the student view of the Gradebook for my classes. There was no solution that we could find (details here), but then on Monday I was glad to learn that the red Gradebook labels are being rolled back to Beta for now; details here.


I also learned a lot from the whole discussion, especially as other people shared their own, different frustrations with the imposition of the labels (details here). I hope that will be a foundation for good discussions to come about Whose Gradebook is it anyway? ... and I wanted to record some thoughts here now. Instead of a giant monster post, I'll start with just one observation and follow up in later posts; today I'll say something about the Swiss Army Gradebook.


Like the proverbial Swiss Army knife, the LMS Gradebook is trying to do very different things, and those different features/functions are not easy to reconcile:



clunky swiss army knife


Here are three main Gradebook functions I see, and they are very different from each other:


* Gather grades for administrative reporting purposes. The Gradebook does this best of all (no surprise: administrative purposes override all other purposes in LMS software, including Canvas), but even in this regard, there are some problems: different schools have different administrative systems, including different grading systems. Since I'm not an administrator, I cannot comment on that, except to say that even for purely institutional reporting purposes, designing a good Gradebook is not easy.


* Record data for course-level assessment purposes. In addition to final grade reporting, the Gradebook records formative and summative assessment data, but because of the wide variety of formative and summative assessments that teachers can (and should!) use, the quest for a one-size-fits-all Gradebook design is doomed. I use a choice-driven progress-based assessment system, and my Canvas Gradebook is a nightmare (over 200 columns). Moreover, the data that is in the Gradebook is largely useless to me; I have to keep my real course data in a separate spreadsheet (a real spreadsheet where I can create ad hoc columns, use conditional formatting, create formulas, etc.).


* Communicate feedback to students. This is the greatest challenge, and it is one where real harm can be done, as in the red label business. I would urge Canvas to adopt a Hippocratic "first, do no harm" approach. If Canvas is going to introduce Gradebook features for communicating with students, they need to make sure instructors have the ability to configure those communications and opt out if necessary. The red Missing and Late labels contradicted the other messages students got from me; this was a very serious problem. So, I repeat: PRIMUM NON NOCERE — first, do no harm. It's one thing for the LMS to fail to have the features I want; I'm used to that. But this was far worse: the LMS was actively undermining my efforts to communicate with students about their course progress.


Keep calm and, first, do no harm.


So, those are some Gradebook thoughts for today. I'll be back with more... and for now I have to add: #TTOG (because there's always something new at the Teachers Throwing Out Grades stream at Twitter).