Wednesday, June 14, 2006

And I thought that teaching had finished for the semester

The other tutor has set up a page on WebCT where we can enter students' marks electronically: there's a column for assignment one, a column for assignment two, a column for assignment three, a column for assignment four, a column for the exam, and, for reasons of general incompetence that I won't go into here, a column where you have to enter the number you get from the formula: 10 - the number of practice problems the student failed to complete (don't worry, my head hurts too). The total adds up to 110%, also for reasons of General Incompetence That I Won't Go Into Here.

Since the other tutor told me she has used this system every year (the reason we let her set this up, despite TGITIWGIH), I went to her when I was curious about exactly how automated the process was.

"Does WebCT automatically add together the columns for the different assignments and generate the total mark?" I asked her.

"I think so."

So my next question, reasonably enough, was how you get it to SHOW the total mark it has generated.

"Last year it just did it."

"Maybe we have to add another column," I suggest, opening up the administrator window. "So, let's see... 'add new column', yes... 'choose column type: alphanumeric, numeric, calculate'... I guess we want 'calculate'..."

"No no!" she assures me, "It should be 'alphanumeric'."

"Are you sure? I mean, what sort of column did you make this one?" I point to the column where the student names are entered.

"That's alphanumeric."

"Okay, so if we make this one alphanumeric too, it will wait for us to enter something. Like a name."

But no. She insists we should make it alphanumeric. Because that's what she did last year.

So we set up a new alphanumeric column and go back to look at the page of assignment marks.

"Why hasn't it added them up?" she asks, confused.

"Because it's waiting for us to enter something?" I suggest, doing my best impression of patience.

She clicks 'refresh' compulsively. Nothing.

I return to the 'manage columns' page and change the column in question to type 'calculate'. It prompts me for a formula and I select 'sum', all the while screening out the background noise of "That's not how you do it! I've NEVER done it that way."

But she's right. That can't be how you do it, because it doesn't give me the option of selecting any of the assignment mark columns to use in the formula.

She shoots me an "I told you so" look.

"What sort of columns did you set up for the assignment marks?" I ask, suddenly suspicious.

"Alphanumeric," she replies smugly.

"And what sort of result did you get last time you tried adding letters of the alphabet together?" I wonder under my breath, resetting all the column types, slowly, one by one.


wolfa said...

Hey, where did my comment go? Argh.

StyleyGeek said...

I don't know. Bring it back! I haven't read it yet.

wolfa said...

I don't really remember. It was something about a good program being able to recognise numbers in alphanumerics and add those, but there was more to it. Oh well. Imagine I said something smart.

StyleyGeek said...

Wow. I'm impressed with your smartness :)

But you're right. A good program should be able to handle it. But standard university issue software? A good program? Not very likely.

And if any program is making you select either alphanumeric or numeric columns when you set up the table, you have to assume there might be a reason to select the one you plan to really use.

Badaunt said...

I hate hate HATE WebCT. Macquarie switched over to using it halfway through my distance Masters, and I LOATHED it. Ordinary old mailing lists were a thousand times more efficient for discussions, for a start. Also, on WebCT the online tests had to be tailored to the software, which meant right/wrong answers with nothing in between. If you wrote 'X' as your answer when the software had 'an X', you were wrong.

Of course the tutors were checking the software test marking (and didn't use it much anyway), but it was still disconcerting to get 0/10 for one particular quiz in which I'd got every answer right.

But the discussion boards were the worst. I LOATHED the WebCT discussion boards. You had to wait for every message to load (I didn't have such a fast connection at that time), so reading through what was there took forever, and worst of all, everything disappeared when the unit was over, so you had nothing to refer back to. Using the old mailing list system I could archive all the discussions from a unit and refer back to them at any time. Mailing lists were more useful, easier to use, and didn't require a fast connection.

Also, with mailing lists the tutors joined the discussions, and answered questions. (Email is harder to ignore.) On the WebCT bulletin boards, tutors put up a welcome message and very rarely checked in again. We (the students) learned quickly that if we needed a question answered we had to email the tutor personally or we would be waiting forever. Units would end with fifteen unanswered questions languishing on the bulletin board - which then got conveniently wiped of all evidence that the stupid system had not worked.

Grrr. In case you hadn't noticed, I am NOT a fan of Web CT. I can't think of a single positive thing to say about it.

StyleyGeek said...

Yeah, I don't like it much either.

Fortunately our dept is pretty much computer illiterate, so people only use WebCT for the bare minimum -- posting pdfs of assignments and handouts for students who missed getting a hardcopy version, and putting up final marks for the students to look up.

We don't use it for discussion boards or quizzes (thank god). What you describe sounds horrific.