Gradebook

 
 
Picture of Jon Africa
Possible New Gradebook Project? What do you think?
 

Greetings. If this is the wrong use of this forum, then accept my apology in advance and advise me how to proceed.

I am and educator and programmer and have been tasked with finding grading tools for my school. After several months of frustrating searches, I am now seriously considering initiating a new open source gradebook project. The main purpose of this new gradebook would be to provide a very easy interface for teachers as well as act like communication glue between Moodle, a school's SIS, and parents and other concerned parties (form parents in my case).

Since the main motivation for me and the main difference of this gradebook from all other gradebooks out there is the connection to Moodle, I wanted to get some feedback from people in this forum before proceeding very far.

Let me start with my assumptions which are motivating me (you are free to agree or disagree with these):

  1. There are a number of features that I (and I believe others) feel need to be available in the Moodle gradebook - especially for K-12 schools - before our teachers will really make use of it. (primarily in ease of use and communication with parents)
  2. Also, not every teacher (at least in my school) is creating a Moodle course for every subject they teach and I am not sure I want to require them to do so just to have gradebook uniformity. (And, even teachers with a Moodle course may have graded material that is not connected to Moodle and creating an assignment in Moodle just to keep grades together can be cumbersome to say the least.)
  3. Currently most gradebook programs - online or offline - do not seem to connect to grades inside Moodle (or other LMS for that matter unless the company has their own commercial LMS). FocusSIS seems to be about the only company doing this well currently and I applaud their work. We still might just adopt their SIS and gradebook.

My thought is to develop a new open-source gradebook program (web-based) that is fully connected to the Moodle Gradebook (and potentially to other LMS's in the future), but can also work independently of Moodle.

The main features that this gradebook would have that are not currently in the Moodle system would be as follows:

  • Providing easier hooks to integrate the Moodle grades to an SIS - Student Information System. (At least an easy way to move final or periodic grades to another system.)
  • Ability to PUSH progress reports to parents via email and/or provide an easier interface for parents to view student progress online than is currently possible inside Moodle.
  • A spreadsheet type interface that makes it very easy for teachers to enter and edit lots of grades - with live editing and updating features much like an offline program would have. (This functionality would utilize some jquery grid like SlickGrid.) My understanding is that Moodle itself tries to avoid using Javascript to have as uniform browser functionality as possible, but to give teachers the sort of interface they are used to using, Javascript would be a must.

In general, I would like to create a very easy-to-use gradebook, much like many that are currently being developed (jupitergrades, engrade, activegrade, etc. - the list is long). Many of these products are quite nice, but they all have at least one fatal flaw for our adoption and that is that they don't seem to have any convenient way to interface with Moodle or any other LMS and that does not seem to be a priority for any of the companies I have written to. Most of them also do not really integrate seamlessly to an SIS either unless they have their own. (Yes. I know that I could just work on writing some export queries and push my Moodle data over to one of these gradebooks, but they don't make it as easy as I would like and it would not be very live.)

Another thing about all of these nice gradebooks is that even though some are free, none of the good ones are open-source. The only open-source gradebooks I have seen are pretty poor and do not seem to have active work. I think it would be nice to have a solid opensource gradebook to complement the opensource work of Moodle.

I would love to be corrected on any of these points. If there is really a good existing solution out there (a product or a plugin for Moodle or a series of good steps or ????), please point me to it. But, if there is not, let me know if this is a felt need for any other schools and let me know if anyone would be interested in working with me on this. I have started trying to map out a data structure that would work well with Moodle, but be extensible to other systems and to allow flexibility beyond Moodle including Standards Based Grading, easy Rubrics, etc. (I know that Moodle already does have some of that with Outcomes and Rubric modules. I don't want to reinvent anything unecessarily, but I do want to extend things and ESPECIALLY make them easier for K-12 teachers.)

Thanks!

 

 

Picture of Marcus Green
Re: Possible New Gradebook Project? What do you think?
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

Sounds like a good idea in principle. See this recent discussion

https://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=170141#p975901

 

Just wondering . . .
Re: Possible New Gradebook Project? What do you think?
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

Very interesting Jon.  

Just curious: do you have a small summary/comparison of the existing applications you have looked at?

I think this is possibly a case where plugins for Moodle may not be up to the task you want.  But you should check this out first.

You should pay attention to the new outcomes work Moodlerooms is doing: http://docs.moodle.org/dev/Outcomes_Specification and https://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=220143.

Initially you may find that some new reports may be all you need, which could be done as plugins.

I think it is OK for you to set up a page in the dev docs with specs and get feedback from there.

It is good to have really tight uers<>programmer connections.  What you describe is a very complex project.

Good luck.

-Derek

 

Picture of Bob Puffer
Re: Possible New Gradebook Project? What do you think?
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

I think this is a great idea but the amount of effort to be put forth would seem to be better spent providing similar solutions "inside" of moodle.  Having written a plugin grade report (LAE Grader) I can tell you that the gradebook "plugin" interface sucks, there are A LOT of hardcoded assumptions. But somebody willing to put forth the kind of effort your suggesting could make things a whole lot better for everyone by doing it inside of Moodle.

I disagree that Moodle is resistant to using much Javascript -- I find it everywhere and my grader report uses it extensively to do the wrap that allows for a table that scrolls both ways without losing the students column or the header rows.

Picture of Jon Africa
Re: Possible New Gradebook Project? What do you think?
 

Is there a way to plug in JUST your gradebook from the LAE project or do I need to use the entire LAE version of Moodle. I am sure there might lots of reasons to do so, but I would love to try out your gradebook alone. (Actually I did a couple versions ago when you had a file with just the gradebook and it looked promising.)

I am still hoping to get some feedback from others about the wisdom of doing this work OUTSIDE Moodle instead of INSIDE. I agree that it would be nice for everything to be well integrated, but I see some challenges to do this work inside Moodle (besides my incorrect perceptions of Javascript). The main problem I see is that I really want easy communication with parents and I feel like that is a whole other layer of work. It would/could be valuable work to make the whole mentor system work better, but it might be more complicated and entwined with lots of other pieces.

My main motivation, though, for considering something OUTSIDE of Moodle is that I currently have teachers who do not use Moodle and I suspect that I will always have teachers like that. They may never really be comfortable with any LMS. I also have teachers who really prefer other tools like Schoology to Moodle. Of course, we could require all teachers to use the same tools, but I like giving educators as much flexibility as is reasonable.

Now, getting teachers to agree on a gradebook is also pretty challenging, but that is a more manageable task than an entire LMS. A flexible gradebook with the ability to import grades from multiple sources could be reasonable to require all teachers to use on some level and then it would be possible to give parents one single contact point to learn everything about their kids.

So, an EXTERNAL gradebook that was seamlessly integrated with Moodle's gradebook - like FOCUS-SIS has successfully done - could be almost the best of both worlds and all of the intense work would be available to a larger group of educators. That's my rationale, but I would welcome more thoughts.

Picture of Bob Puffer
Re: Possible New Gradebook Project? What do you think?
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

LAE Grader is totally pluggable.  Download the suitable LAE release and just extract grade/report/laegrader.  

We have packaged it with the CLAMP LAE release of Moodle for economy of updates and to further promote CLAMP ($300 yearly dues).  The CLAMP collaborative is really pretty effective at getting useful things accomplished with regards to Moodle code.

Picture of Jon Africa
Re: Possible New Gradebook Project? What do you think?
 

Hi Bob. I got my broken Sandbox back up and running (we had tried a few too many experiments), so I installed your LAE Grader (actually I moved your entire grade folder into our install (2.3.1) just to be sure there weren't any other dependencies. Your grader works very well, but the one feature that I was most eager about (scrolling with fixed headers and names) did not seem to be present. Is there some other setting I need to set for that feature? Thanks. If I were to work on a gradebook INSIDE Moodle I would certainly want to start with your work, so I am eager to see all the improvements you have made.

Picture of Bob Puffer
Re: Possible New Gradebook Project? What do you think?
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

This is quite befuddling.  Possible answers:

  • Javascript must be enabled in the browser
  • Does not support earlier versions of IE (we don't use IE with Moodle on my campus)
  • Might want to only extract the laegrader folder and leave your other grade folders intact.  There is so much reliance on libraries outside of the gradebook tree in the gradebook reports that we have isolated the code in the laegrader to be functional across multiple versions (same version works for 2.2 as 2.3)
  • If none of this stuff helps you (the above steps are the easiest) turn debugging up to developer level and see what gets reported

Feel free to email me directly with questions.

Picture of Paul Nicholls
Re: Possible New Gradebook Project? What do you think?
Group DevelopersGroup Particularly helpful Moodlers

It may seem too basic to mention, but it's easily overlooked: don't forget, once you've installed the LAE Grader report, you need to select it from the dropdown above the gradebook - otherwise you'll still be looking at Moodle's standard Grader report.  You'll also need to make sure that you actually have enough students and grade items to see the fixed column and row headers in action.

-Paul

Picture of Bob Puffer
Re: Possible New Gradebook Project? What do you think?
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

You may want to look here for info on parents and Moodle. This isn't an issue for highed in north america as laws don't permit us to release information directly to parents.

We've moved our course evaluations entirely to Moodle (using slightly hacked Questionnaire) and integrated to Google Docs for reports.  This has resulted in two additional desired outcomes beyond the ease of use and flexibility of Questionnaire:

  • More instructors are looking at Moodle in a more positive way (because now they're forced to use it for at least one thing and thay takes off the blinders).
  • More instructors are forced to use Google Docs and can see the VAST improvements made there since it was first introduced.

These kinds of reasons would be valid in your use case also -- causing more instructors to at least take a look at Moodle even if they didn't want to use it for other things beside the gradebook.  

Your contribution to Moodle by making the internal gradebook better CAN NOT be over emphasized.

Picture of Jon Africa
Re: Possible New Gradebook Project? What do you think?
 

Let me add two more possibilities for people to consider and discuss.

1. EnGrade is a free (but not open source) tool that seems pretty nice and continues to grow in popularity. It's basic functionality is promised to stay free and they do provide an API for connecting to their system. What would be the pros and cons about work on connecting Moodle to EnGrade?

2. As I have mentioned, FocusSIS is about the only SIS I have found that truly connects well with Moodle. Their SIS started out as an open source project. I am wondering about the possibility of approaching them about spinning off the gradebook portion of their system as an open source project. I wonder if it could be a model which would actually help generate business for them and their SIS and thus be appealling to them - they could almost be a competitor to EnGrade in that way. It would sure be nice not to re-invent everything.

In general, my question is: What gradebooks are your schools using? and how do you deal with the Moodle issue. It doesn't sound like there are all that many schools actually using the Moodle gradebook - at least not exclusively.

Picture of Bob Puffer
Re: Possible New Gradebook Project? What do you think?
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

EnGrade is a toy, hardly more powerful than the gradebook written using Google spreadsheet and forms.  Maybe someday it will be something more.  Even if you upgrade you've so far below the bar met by any modern LMS.