Saying Goodbye to Blackboard – Part III: Missing Essentials
The hardest part about doing away with the standard LMS is replacing the essentials like gradebook, quizzing, and assignment dropbox. The assignment dropbox feature is used to collect assignments from students. I’ve tried using email for this in the past, but I’m not organized enough or consistently organized enough to make that work. Besides I’m a stickler about submitting assignments on time, and if your email inbox is your dropbox, you can’t simply turn that off or lock it down when the due date has passed. So I had to come up with a solution for this, as well as a gradebook and quizzing function.
Increasingly book publishers are replacing standard LMS services with new companion sites that come packaged with textbooks. Last year we adopted both the McGraw-Hill Guide with Connect Composition Plus and Cengage’s A College Writer with Enhanced InSite. Both offer online textbooks and companion sites that provide lots of resources for both faculty and students. I chose to use the McGraw-Hill text with Connect Composition Plus.
Connect Composition Plus provides comprehensive, reliable writing and research content that is searchable, assignable, and inviting. It includes a fully integrated eBook with exercises, peer review tools and editing skills diagnostic tests.
With this new tool, it’s easy for me to assign custom assignments for students that provide detailed instructions and then gives the students a place to submit the assignment. Connect Composition, as well as Enhanced Insite, have built in grading features. I can quickly annotate student assignments and post grades for students to see.There are also features in both that allow for students to peer review essays.
This is a great setup as it gives me one place for all submitted work, and one place to go to grade submitted work. I can create as many assignments as I want and set due dates. The down side is that their is no internal gradebook attached. There is a gradebook, but you can’t add outside assignments or exclude ebook assignments or grammar exercises you might assign students for extra practice. Basically you don’t have any control over the gradebook – weighting grades and assigning point value. Everything is just graded on a 100% scale. Ultimately I would like to see a gradebook built into this system, but in the mean time, I’ve decided to use Engrade for my gradebook.
Engrade is a free set of web-based tools for educators allowing them to manage their classes online while providing students with 24/7 real-time online access. It’s private, secure, truly free, and unbelievably easy to use.
It was very easy to set up all of my classes in Engrade. I just created rosters with the FirstName LastName IDNumber (MEIDs for Maricopa) and Engrade creates an access code for each student. I just emailed this access code with instructions to all students along with instructions on how to access their grades.
Engrade just recently added a feature that allows you to create quizzes, although it is a bit limiting at the moment. You can only create multiple choice quizzes. That doesn’t work for me, so I’m using Classmarker.com for my quizzing needs.
The ClassMarker online testing website is a professional, easy to use, online quiz maker that marks your tests and quizzes for you.
ClassMarker has educational pricing at $24 for the year and I’m able to create quizzes with different types of questions, including fill in the blank and essay – my favorites. It keeps track of all the scores and I can provide feedback on the quizzes. Initially I wanted to use ClassMarker because they have an external quiz feature that allows you to embed quizzes into your site. I couldn’t figure out how to make that work, but that is ultimately what I want to see on my WordPress site, quizzes embedded directly into the site.
So those are the three essentials that I had to replace when I made the move from Blackboard to WordPress. I’ll discuss more about the social aspect of WordPress over Blackboard in my next post.