Friday, March 13, 2009

Tinkering with Student Assessment Tools

I grew up in a town that was lo-tech, a rural place where there were no public libraries nor bookstores. Information was not only not open and free, but there was just no information available for further study of the world. The only source of reading materials was the newsstand that sells tabloids, local comics and magazines. This was a place where a teen's leisure hours are spent swimming in the river, playing pool or watching the mango trees bear fruit.1

And that was during the 1980's!

When I was a child, I've never seen computers. They were the stuff found in comics and sci-fi television. School's didn't have them either. The first time I got to touch one was in the late eighties. My cousin's had an 8086 clone, and we played games with it.

When I was in college I wanted to be a physicist or an engineer. But destructively experimenting with atoms was too expensive. After shifting courses, and majors I ended up being an education student. During that time the major educational technology used in the classroom was the photocopier i.e. teachers would hand out copies of their readings. But we did have some "introduction to computers" courses and I was introduced to the Apple 1. The one with a wooden case, single sided 51/2 inches floppy, and green monochrome monitors.

My first computer was a used Korean 80286 clone. Which I destroyed within a few months and swapped with a used 80386. With the 286 I was able to program in Pascal a very simple program to compute my grades because I hated using the calculator. The program is text based and would ask the user to simply input a series of numbers and when the last grade is typed, it sums it up and multiply the weights. After showing the output on the screen I manually copied the grades to my class record.

I probably went through all the major models of the Intel PC except the Pentium 2. And all of them were junk. And all of them were what I would call "Frankenstein" computers, with surplus parts sourced from here and there. With a P3 I programmed in VB macro my excel sheet to automatically calculate grades while I was sick for two weeks in the early 2000's. This was one of my first attempts at creating a distributable GPL'ed tool for my collegues. Unfortunately no one was interested in using it, except me.

Later on I used a program called WebGrades by Rasul Shafikov which seems no longer available on the Net. It was written in PHP and I used it to display my student's grades in my former site It is not a tracker or calculator but simply displayed manually calculated grades to a specific logged-in student.

In 2005 I managed to put up Moodle at my defunct site (which is now at and used it's automated Gradebook. With it, computation was automated but the output did not match the grading system of my school. And because I am the only one running Moodle in my school I am not that motivated to customize it.

I am currently thinking of porting my VB excel code to Openoffice Macros but I still don't have enough time to sit down and study that language.

I am not a programmer nor a computer scientist. But because I'm a teacher who creates his own tools, in a sense a tool maker I tinker a lot with educational technology. This is possible because bits are cheaper than atoms. Looking back, my current student assessment tools are a far cry from my Pascal program. It made my work a little bit easier.

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