Monday, March 17, 2014

Why Skedula Still Sucks but Online Grading May Not

I'm on a UFT committee to study online grading. Since we're supposed to discuss it, I figured I'd better start doing it. It's something I've thought about, but put off. A lot of my colleagues do it. Many favor other programs. Some use spreadsheets, but most people I know who love it use Engrade. However, my school is set up to use Skedula. I don't have a whole lot of love for Skedula, as it's awkward, unreliable, and counter-intuitive, but I have to evaluate what my school uses, so that's what I did.

Skedula is enormously popular with administrators because it plays nice with STARS, the DOE record-keeping program they use. I'm told there is a process that very quickly uploads info from STARS onto Skedula. It used to take maybe a minute, but the geniuses at DOE found some way to inhibit it, so now it takes maybe five minutes. That's a big advantage for administrators who don't feel like sitting around uploading files.

Everyone in my school has an iPad, and Skedula has an iPad app that most of us have deemed unusable. I have a keyboard case, so that helps me with the web app, but it places a nag screen for the iPad app every time I open it. And while my keyboard works with everything, sometimes it simply does not work with Skedula. Also, Skedula forgets who I am on an almost daily basis, despite the fact that I ask it to remember my email. When I entered report card grades on my iPad, twice, Skedula failed to record them. I had to find a computer and enter them for the third time.

Another questionable feature of Skedula is that on the report cards, comments do not appear. I finally found out you have to hover over the grades to see them. You have to do so very deliberately, because if you don't do it just right, they don't appear. I had to ask my principal what happened to my comments. I have no idea how parents or students are going to know that, since there are no instructions whatsoever available. I'm very happy admin at my school decided to issue paper report cards this semester.

On the positive side, I love that my kids can see their grades so easily. I was being observed a few weeks ago, and a girl stood up for no particular reason and asked, "How come you only gave me 85 for participation?" Maybe I should have been upset, but I was thrilled. "Wow. You actually looked at it?" Now that this girl, and perhaps her dad, will know every time she misses the homework, I'm hopeful she'll miss less of it. It turns out she was right about her participation grade, and I raised it. I don't mind getting complaints about things I'm wrong about. It might be better if students would wait until I'm not being observed, but what can you do?

For me, I'm going to keep doing it. I like the back and forth about grades with my students who've decided to keep track, and I'll encourage others to do so as well. On parent-teacher night, I'll be able to pull up an online gradebook that shows grades of only the student in question. That will be good.

But there are a few things I've learned---one is it certainly takes longer than using a gradebook (which I still do, just in case). I cannot rely on Skedula not to crap out, and I'm not sure about reliance on school internet either.  If I'm not collecting homework, I can walk around and check it with a book. I can't count on Skedula and my iPad for that.

Here's what I really wonder--why can't a grading program that does not suck figure out a way to quickly and seamlessly hook up with STARS? That would give principals an incentive to offer a better program, and could possibly make a whole lot of profit for a company interested in helping out the largest school district in the US of A.
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