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Gradebook Choices: Selecting and Using Online Systems


While Gradebooks are often part of a Learning Management System (LMS), such as Blackboard or Moodle, what do you do if your school doesn’t use an LMS? There are a number of online gradebook tools that can help you, as an online instructor, track student grades and participation. If you are interested in using a stand-alone electronic gradebook, there are both web-based and downloadable software options to consider, as well as a long list of possible features and functions.

What tasks do you need your gradebook to perform?

A range of features is available and every system seems to be a little bit different. Let's take a closer look at some of the functions that may be most important to you and your class.

  • Generate reports: Do you need to download official grade reports for your students or for your school's administrators? Different options are available ranging from printable PDFs to editable spreadsheets, as well as progress reports, report card-type documents, and sometimes transcripts if multiple courses are being tracked in the same system.
  • Embed rubrics: You may have existing grading rubrics or want to create grading guidelines within your electronic gradebook. If so, look for this capability when comparing systems.
  • Allow student access: Do you want students to be able to access your online gradebook? This can be helpful for them to track their progress in the course and to find out their grades on individual assignments as they are posted. Many systems provide student access via individual login accounts.
  • Provide for open-ended comments: Most online gradebooks allow you to enter numerical scores or letter grades. If you are interested in a system that students can access you may also want comment areas in which you can provide more narrative feedback as well as the typical grades.
  • Allow for weighting and percentages: Explore the available options to assign weighting factors to specific assignments. This is helpful when you need to distinguish importance among multiple assignments. You may, for example, want a final project to count for 30% of a course grade. What type of grading scale do you need to enter into the gradebook?
  • Import data: In stand-alone gradebook systems, student names and course assignments usually have to be entered manually, but can then be copied over to new versions of the course or to other courses. Look for import options, which may vary with system and account level within a system. (See note below!)
  • Keep information secure: Individual students' grades are subject to the privacy policies and procedures outlined by your school and by the federal government, so make sure you understand the implications and security measures associated with any product you choose. And of course, be careful to keep your own account info secure.
  • Be compatible with your computer platforms: How do you plan to access your electronic gradebook? Whether you use a PC or a MAC, or want to access and modify grades via your mobile devices, there are options available.

Note: If you are used to having an LMS gradebook available, the initial set up of an online system may seem a little tedious. Schools that use an LMS or other grade tracking software typically upload students into courses and even have the gradebook pre-set with assignments and point values when the course starts. These non-LMS online systems will require some manual set up to get started.

Tools to Consider

There are many options out there. After you have an idea of the features and functions you'll need for your course, explore several of the products listed below. Many are free, or have free options, and all have additional services and capabilities you may be interested in using as well. 

  • ActiveGrade: This system has a free version available that includes all of its features for use in a single active class. ActiveGrade advertises a "standards-based gradebook" that maps assignments to learning objectives and a feature to track trends across students and across objectives. 
  • Engrade: With more than 2.8 million users, Engrade is free to use and includes a suite of additional features such as a course calendar and online flashcards.
  • GNU Gradebook: Part of the larger GNU open project, this gradebook is available as free software. It's basic, but might be interesting to you if you have some additional programming skills and are interested in modifying and helping improve the system.
  • Gradekeeper: Individual licenses to download and use this software are $20, and it works with Windows, Mac, and iPad. This one does require download and the website provides several screenshots to familiarize you with the interface.
  • JupiterGrades: Free and paid versions of JupiterGrades are available and you can also access this one on your mobile device. Paid versions of this system include comment areas that can be translated into Spanish and file storage capabilities.
  • ThinkWave: This one is free for individual instructors, and includes file storage and exchange – instructors can post "handouts" and students can submit their work online with a drop box-type function.

There is also a do-it-yourself option – a spreadsheet. The authors at Internet4Classrooms.com provide detailed instructions for Using Excel as a Gradebook. This site presents a more complicated spreadsheet with weighted scores as an example and includes formatting and function tips. Microsoft also provides instructions for creating an electronic gradebook with Excel, and Penn State has posted additional guidelines and tips for customizing Excel to calculate grades

Ideas for Use

If you are working with a school that manages courses in an LMS, you may not have a lot of choices or flexibility regarding how you track and submit your students' grades for official purposes. Gradebook options such as the ones listed above may be better suited to courses that do not have an LMS in place and for other types of projects where instructor-student exchange and tracking are important. Using a stand-alone gradebook may be helpful if:

  • You need or want to back-up your LMS gradebook
  • You teach or facilitate workshops or seminars where you assess participants' work and provide feedback
  • You advise individual students (or student groups) and need help tracking tasks and communicating progress and suggestions.

Online gradebooks are also gaining popularity in K-12 settings where teachers want to make information, such as attendance, available to students and potentially parents throughout the school year.

As with most uses of technology, tracking student progress and recording grades will likely change as the nature of course assessment evolves and the capabilities of the tools expand. What are your "must have" features in an online gradebook?

Image credit: alicegop

August 30th, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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