Spring 2001

High Marks for WebGrade from Brooklyn College Faculty



Two City Universty Campuses have recently responded to Chancellor Goldstein's call for best practices. Mark Gold, Director of Information Technology Services at Brooklyn College, reports here on a new online grading initiative.

rooklyn College faculty members and their peers around CUNY excel at teaching and enjoy the challenges and rewards of the classroom. What they do not enjoy are the many time- and paper-consuming administrative tasks that come with the territory, least of all assigning and submitting grades for their courses.

Their frustrations have been shared by the Offices of the Registrar and the Information Technology Services. The process of grade collection was acknowledged to be tedious, expensive, and susceptible to error at every stage: from printing Op-Scan forms and distributing them to the faculty to collecting, scanning, and tabulating the rosters.

Students had good reason for frustration as well. Although for some time Brooklyn College students had been accustomed to viewing their transcripts on-line via the Web, registering by telephone, and using a variety of Web-based productivity tools they had to wait weeks for grades. Throughout the entire process, grade rosters had to be kept secure and protected from tampering.

Recognizing the need to streamline the time-consuming process, the Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) created WebGrade, an innovative on-line system. First piloted in spring 2000 and recently used college-wide, WebGrade has been an immediate success and rendered paper grade rosters obsolete. The process has simplified grade submission for Brooklyn College faculty, saved the college money, and expedited the delivery of grades to the students.

Continuing its long record of technological innovation, Brooklyn College is the first CUNY campus to advance to on-line grading. The WebGrade concept was initiated by Registrar Joan Antonicelli and developed by ITS. It was implemented jointly by an ITS/Registrar team.

Antonicelli's interest in on-line grade submission began several years ago as a result of Internet discussions with other College Registrars on a ListServe. Convinced that online grading would be a boon to the College, she consulted with ITS on the practicality of such a system. ITS recognized that Web grading would be a logical outgrowth of our technology roadmap, which emphasized Windows and Web access to centralized data warehouses via client-server technology.

Webgrade: The Reviews

As a department chair, when there are problems I heard about them endlessly. The response to WebGrade was silence, which speaks for itself!
--Roger Dunkle, Classics Chair

Faculty in Computer and Information Sciences first tried Webgrade as a curiosity. . .They were soon converted. . .The vast majority of our faculty used WebGrade with no problems.
--Aaron Tenenbaum, CIS Chair

It almost made submitting grades enjoyable.
--Eric M. Steinberg, Assistant Provost

I submitted my grades over the Web at 11 p.m. on December 24th and left for Ecuador the next morning. This couldnŐt have been done with the old system.
--Steven Jervis, English Department

The WebGrade system saves time, money, and endless aggravation. It's a huge step in the right direction.
--Philip F. Gallagher, History Chair

The ITS team, including Alex Rotkop, Karl Lum, Irina Shor, and the Network Group, under David Best, soon began to develop WebGrade. Security, ease of use, reliability, responsiveness, and accessibility were our key goals during the design phase. Eventually, WebGrade grew into an extension of the SALI, or SIMS Access LAN Interface, the Windows-based application used by faculty and advisement staff throughout the City University of New York to access and manipulate data on SIMS, the Student Information Management System.While the ITS team was hard at work building WebGrade, Antonicelli recruited some faculty pioneers to test the system.This proved easy, considering the College's large number of faculty members accustomed to using leading-edge tools in their teaching and research. Currently, hundreds of course sections are augmented by Web technology.

In fall 1999, three faculty members put WebGrade through its paces, gave it a thumbs-up, and offered suggestions for improvement. In spring 2000, WebGrade was piloted by three entire departments: Computer Information Science, History, and Classics. Prior to inaugurating the project, the Registrar/ITS team met with these departments' faculty, marketing the system and providing on-site demos. Later, WebGrade was updated yet again to meet needs specific to individual departments.

With the success of the trial run and awareness of the new system's potential, Brooklyn College Vice-President for Finance and Administration Steve G. Little and President Christoph M. Kimmich gave their support to move ahead with full implementation of WebGrade in all departments.

The WebGrade team has worked hard to inform the Brooklyn College academic community of the program's many advantages, thus assuring its positive reception. The system and its tremendous institutional benefits were marketed to the provost, the deans, and department chairs. WebGrade "veterans" were enlisted to encourage their peers. Most important to the success of the program was that the WebGrade team developed on-line instructions and a series of training workshops for the faculty as well as mandatory training for support staff members.

In fall 2000, all departments at Brooklyn College used WebGrade to submit term grades. Nearly 80 percent of all sections were submitted electronically. Notably, more than half the grades were submitted from off-campus. Each day's grade submissions were processed into SIMS overnight so that students were able to view them on-line by the following morning. The faculty found the system easy to use and convenient, and the registrar was able to process grades with a minimum of fuss and manual input. Throughout the process, on-line status screens enabled chairpersons and Registrar Antonicelli to monitor with regularity the progress of submissions in real time and to review grade rosters on-line.

How does WebGrade work? Provided with a password, which must be changed before submitting grades, each faculty member accesses the WebGrade URL, selects the appropriate course, and navigates an on-screen roster. Grades are entered by either typing or selecting from pull-down menus. The roster may be stored and retrieved repeatedly before the grades are submitted. When final submission is selected, a confirmation number is assigned and a final roster printed. Once submitted, rosters cannot be updated online. Nightly, an automated process extracts newly submitted grades and updates the student's SIMS records.

The College anticipates 100 percent participation by fall 2001 and hopes to introduce on-line attendance rosters in the near future. Although innovative technology made WebGrade possible, its success was the result of a carefully fostered partnership between the Registrar's Office, Information Technology Services, and a cooperative and receptive faculty (see sidebar). Anyone in the market for a few thousand unused Op-Scan grade forms?