Entries in grading (3)


GradeA update with attendance coming this summer

For the last few weeks I have been working on adding attendance functionality to GradeA. I've seen a number of search request in the web site logs that indicate people are looking for an attendance app on the Mac. I also figured, I would wait to see what Apple announced at WWDC for iOS 5 before starting on an iPad version of GradeA.

I have the attendance functionality working and am working on ways to import/merge the attendance data in GradeA with the iOS Attendance app since I think a number of people, including myself, will want to do that. The basic copying of data is working, but this is a fairly complex issue. For example, do I always add data? Or should I ask the user if they want to delete the data that is missing in one of the apps? I'll probably provide both options - an option with no user interaction that only adds data and an option that asks if you want to add/delete each missing date, etc.

I also plan to support some of the new Lion features while still maintaing backwards compatibility with Snow Leopard. Initially I will support the Versions/Autosave (see http://www.apple.com/macosx/whats-new/auto-save.html) in the update with attendance support while some of the other announced features in Lion will have to wait until a future update to GradeA.

Because the import/export to the iOS Attendance app is fairly complex, it will probably take me a few more weeks before I am ready to submit the new version of GradeA to the Mac app store. As a result, I will not have time this summer to make much progress on an iPad version of GradeA and may not even have time to start it as I am teaching a new course in the fall semester.

I will also be looking into whether or not to use iCloud for the iOS Attendance app to make it simpler to copy your Attendance database between multiple devices. It is too early to tell if this will work well for Attendance  and can be completed this summer, but I will check into it after finishing the GradeA update.



Mac Grading app

The most commonly requested feature for Attendance that I haven't implemented is grading. There are a few ways you can do simple grade recording with Attendance:

  1. copy the class and use statuses corresponding to grades
  2. take attendance multiple times per day and use the second time for a grade
  3. use the new daily note per student to record a grade

The reason I have not tried to add full grading capabilities to Attendance is with all the different capabilities people will want (total points or weighted averages of categories, drop lowest X grades for a category, etc.), I do not think I can design a good interface on the small iPhone/Touch screen.

I previously used some scripts written in Python to keep and calculate grades for my classes. In November I began developing a Mac app based on the ideas from these scripts and the capabilities I thought people would want. I've spent a number of long days and nights in December working on it and it's at the point where it's now usable by me. I'm going to get some feedback from a few friends and have a few colleagues beta test it with me this semester. Assuming all goes well, I'll try to finish it up over our mid-semester break at the beginning of March. It always seems to snow during our week off so it should be a good time to get version 1.0 ready to submit to the Mac app store.

The main items I need to finish our polishing the GUI a bit, design an icon, and create the help files. That's probably at least a full week's work. Here are the main features:

  1. document-based app so you create one file per class
  2. support for using total points or a weighted average of categories
  3. option to drop lowest grades from each category (different number per category)
  4. add/delete students, categories, assessments with full undo support
  5. configurable letter grade scaling
  6. import students from a CSV file
  7. email grades for an assessment to students
  8. email full grade report to students
  9. export a CSV grade report with all grades

Once I do a little more GUI polishing, I'll post a few screenshots and/or videos of it.

I plan to price it in the $15 to $20 range in the Mac app store. At the moment there are no in-app purchases or upgrade pricing in the Mac app store so at least for now, it appears all updates will need to be free forever unless you create a new app that people need to buy. I don't want to ask people to pay for a new version so I'll probably price it at the high end of the range.

If sales are decent and I think I can design a reasonable iOS app based on it, I may try to do that in May-July 2011. My guess is that if I do, it will be an iPad only app to take advantage of the larger screen.



Possible new application

Adding grading functionality to the Attendance application is a fairly common request that I have not implemented yet. And I just realized as I'm writing this, I've only mentioned requests I haven't added. I do add many of the request I get via email. At least 80% of the new features since the original 1.0 release of Attendance are the result of requests from users with the other 20% being features I wanted.

The reason I haven't added it yet is I think the iPhone/Touch screen isn't large enough to develop a reasonable interface for it. Some people even mentioned a separate grading app would be great (that are already a few available but the people emailing me didn't like them). I suspect even fewer iPhone/Touch users want to use their device for grading. As I mentioned in this post only 4,500 people have bought the Attendance app in 17 months of sales.

The larger iPad screen and new user interface elements (split view and pop over) make it a much better device for a grading application. Right now there are only two million iPads that have been sold vs. over 80 million iPhone/Touch devices so it is also a much smaller audience. I have no idea what percentage of those two million iPads are owned by teachers, but my best guess right now is a decent grading app wouldn't sell much more than 500 to 1,000 copies based on sales of the Attendance application. There's already one iPad grading application but the one I have in mind would be much more functional (in my opinion, of course) than the screenshots and description of it indicate.

My guess is it would be two to three months of work to complete it. Unlike the Attendance application, I would plan add more features in the original version and then charge $10 to $15 for it. If it sold 1,000 copies that would result in $7,00 to $10,000 in income for three months work. That's still not as good as consulting, but not too bad, and certainly more fun.

So at this point, this is still vaporware. I haven't committed to writing it yet. But if you would buy it for $10 to $15 and want to suggest possible features, feel free to email me at dave256apps (at) me (dot) com. The initial plan is to support using total points or weighted percentages of various categories (e.g., 20% for homework, 25% for quizzes, 5% for Attendance, 30% for exams, and 20% for the final). Each grade would have a specified category and a number of points (if using total points for the course). There would be options to email grades to students, email a spreadsheet report to yourself, and backup the internal database similar to the way you can send yourself the attend.db file in Attendance).

I currently use a combination of command-line Python scripts and a small Cocoa app (for editing grades later) for recording grades in my classes so I don't need this application, but it might be nice to have it on the iPad. I'm still wondering if Apple will add support for running iPad apps on a Mac in the next version of the Mac OS. In that case, it would be nice to be able to use the same application on both devices and opens up the market to many more people that might want to use it.

So if you have thoughts on an iPad grading app, please send comments to: dave256apps (at) me (dot) com