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Gradebook Thoughts for an Open Course

I’m co-teaching an educational technology course with Helen Barrett (@eportfolios). Instead of using Blackboard, we’re trying to use all open technologies for the course.  We are using Google Sites for the content and Google Groups for class communication (no Google Wave invite yet).

So far, so good except for a few small snags such as what to do about a gradebook.  I’ve agreed to find a solution for this.  I would like a gradebook that allows students to check scores whenever they want.  Students already have a number of applications they need to create logins for so I would like to avoid one more if possible.

I was hoping to be able to use Google Docs Spreadsheet alone for the gradebook for this course.  My goal was to make it possible to have one spreadsheet where all scores were entered by the instructors, and students could only see their individual scores.  However, it doesn’t look like there is a way to give students access to part of a sheet or even one sheet in a Google Docs Spreadsheet.  I could create a spreadsheet for each student but this would require too many clicks when entering scores.

I did some research on the use of a mail merge command in Google Docs. It looks like I would need access to scripts that aren’t available to all users so this idea is out for now. Therefore, I am planning to use the following plan (which breaks our goal of trying to use only open software in this course) unless someone from my Personal Learning Network (you) can provide another way forward:

  1. Create a single Google Spreadsheet to enter student names, email addresses, and scores.
  2. Share this spreadsheet with my co-instructor, Helen Barrett.
  3. Enter scores as assignments are completed.
  4. Each week, export the spreadsheet as a Microsoft Excel document to a folder on my computer.
  5. Use Microsoft Word to create a MailMerge and send each student an update on their progress in the course.


  • This is technology I am familiar with and know that it will work, possibly saving me time and stress.
  • Students will get weekly feedback on their progress.
  • Pushing grades to students (emailing) may encourage them to check in on the course as they probably check email more frequently than they access the course.


  • This solution uses non-open technologies so university students who want to replicate this technique with their K-12 or adult ed students will need to have Microsoft Office. (All SPU students have Office 2007 or 2008 so maybe this isn’t a disadvantage.)
  • Students won’t have real-time access to their grades. They will have to refer to my last email to check on their grades.
  • I will have to remember to send out a grade update each week, which is unlikely so I will probably need a prompt from students or my co-instructor.
  • Although I’m familiar with this process, it may seem complicated to teachers who want to replicate what I’m doing.

Do you have any suggestions for me? The idea solution would:

  • Let students access grades whenever they want.
  • Let them use existing login information so they don’t have to create an additional account
  • Come at no cost to the students, a small annual fee for the instructor would be acceptable.
  • Provide common gradebook features such as the ability to have easily enter data and sort, create reports, and make calculated columns.
  1. balqisha
    March 3, 2010 at 2:10 am

    hye… i’m glad to see you page!
    it’s help me n well knomledge about tecgnology in teaching..thanks


  2. Al
    June 16, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Did you get anywhere with your Google Apps as Blackboard replacement? Google has released some scripting that we are looking at using to implement the Google Spreadsheet grade book in much the same way you outlined.

    I started a public wave to explore replacing our ANGEL system with Google Apps. You are very welcome to jump in.



    • November 13, 2010 at 7:25 am

      Thanks for the tip. We have been looking at free online grade book software like LearnBoost.


  3. Al
    November 13, 2010 at 7:59 am

    I’ve been able to play a bit with the scripting since my post. I’ve gotten as far as adding a push button to a spreadsheet, that when clicked creates a copy of the spreadsheet and shares the copy with another user. I think it is a relatively small matter to move from that to have it create a new spreadsheet and only copy certain cells to the new spreadsheet. Once I get a chance to work more on it, I plan on setting up a master spreadsheet with a button that will create a spreadsheet for each student, move the cells with the student’s grades to their spreadsheet, and then share the student gradebook spreadsheet with the student.


    • November 13, 2010 at 9:04 am

      Sounds great. Please let me know how it goes. I like the idea of using a spreadsheet. It’s easy to back up, lots of control.


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