From all of us to all of you, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
From all of us to all of you, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Paul Ford, writing in The New Yorker:
The Web started out as a way to publish and share documents. It is now an operating system: a big, digital sensory apparatus that can tell you about your phone’s battery life, record and transmit your voice, manage your e-mail and your chats, and give you games to play. It can do this all at once, and with far less grand of a design than you might assume. That’s the software industry: it promises you an Ellsworth Kelly, but it delivers a Pollock.
Concerning software releases, we've been busy the past few weeks...
Graded discussions let you grade your students for their participation in a discussion. Here's how it works:
The grading features are a major part of a general overhaul of course discussions, which now include...
When you enable peer rating, students can rate one another's comments and replies from one to five stars. You can include peer rating stats as a discussion grading requirement.
You can now require students to post to the discussion before they can see anyone else's comments.
When students report inappropriate comments, you now have better tools to handle these reports—and more accountability for the student who submits the report.
If you're not ready for students to know about an upcoming discussion—maybe it's a surprise assignment, or perhaps you're still working on the grading requirements—you can leave it in Draft mode. When you're ready for it to get out there, just set it to Published.
To get a look at everything you can do with discussions now, have a look at the Populi Knowledge Base.
Course attendance now features ID photos (like the Roster), radio buttons for attendance status, and new action links to mark all students either Present, Absent, Tardy, or Excused.
In Academics, we added course equivalencies. Equivalencies are specified at the course catalog level. Effectively, this lets you substitute any course for any other in a student's academic history. For example, say you make ENG101 an equivalent of WRI101:
Additionally, you can now use Course Groups as prerequisites for catalog courses. This lets you treat a group of courses as equivalent (take this course OR this other course...) when setting up prereqs.
We've added a bunch of little (but significant!) things to Library the past few weeks:
Back in Autumn, 2009 we introduced online tests with several question types. Certain types—multiple choice for example—are simple for a computer program to grade. You just tell it what the correct answer is, and if the student marks that answer, they get the credit. Other question types, however, aren’t so simple: put-in-order, for example. Different instructors have different methods and rationales for how to assign credit for a partially correct put-in-order question, so replicating how a human would grade one is no mean feat. Or so we’ve learned over the last five years.
Our first method was simple: we'd evaluate each item in turn, and if it was before or after the item that it was supposed to be before or after then it would be counted as correct.
This did a pretty good job approximating how an instructor might give partial credit by focusing on the order of items as opposed to their placement. This method stayed in place until we discovered its principal flaw. Though highly unlikely, it was possible for an incorrect response to receive 100% credit provided each item was next to at least one correct neighbor.
When an instructor brought this to our attention last Winter (over four years since we added online tests!) we quickly revised our methodology to focus on placement. This seemed like a simple, reasonable method: imagine a teaching assistant lining up an answer key next to the student’s response and marking incorrect any item that didn’t match the key.
In reality, though, this sometimes proved much harsher than an actual professor would be, especially if the question had a larger number of options.
In fact, not long after the update an instructor showed us a rather harshly-graded 25-item put-in-order question; Populi counted 13 options as correct when the instructor would have counted 24. In light of this, we sought out another approach. The best programmatic method for giving partial credit on put-in-order questions would need to take into account more than simple placement in order to better replicate how a human teacher would grade and avoid being overly harsh or generous. After testing every method we could think of, here’s what we came up with.
The new method aims to give as much credit as is reasonable (as most instructors would) by focusing on what we’re calling chains—that is, two or more correctly-ordered items in a row. First, we locate the longest chain. Then, we use it to figure out whether or not other chains before it or after it are in order. Anything not in a chain is incorrect.
This method worked well overall, but there were a couple wrinkles to iron out. One was that the first and last items in the list are at a disadvantage when it comes to chaining: each has only one neighbor to chain with, and so are less likely to be counted as correct. This was solved by treating the top and bottom boundaries of the list as non-credit positions. In other words, if the first or last item is in the correct position it always counts as being in a chain, and receives credit.
The other wrinkle: a response could have more than one longest chain. Depending on which chain you started with it was possible to come up with a different number of points. Here, starting with the first chain leads to a lower score:
We solved this by grading the question multiple times, as it were. We look at each chain, and then look at the position of each chain in the answer. We then see which chain to use as a starting point to grant the most credit.
There's also a very, very remote possibility that the most credit would be awarded by starting with the second-longest chain. So we also try grading using every longest chain and every chain with one fewer item than the longest chain, just in case.
We’re happy to announce this as the new (and hopefully final) method for assigning partial credit to put-in-order questions.
Now, partial credit is, after all, just an option on a feature. But the time we spent working it out and building it is worth it. Professors rely on Populi to save them time with the mundane things (like test-grading), but some of the mundane things are hard to nail. It's actually quite a challenge to replicate a teacher's intuition with rigid, literal software code.
As a bonus, we now show which items were marked incorrect in the test history view so students and teachers can see how the partial-credit grade was derived.
Editor's Note: As you suspected, Yes—the title of this article can be sung to the tune of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from Mary Poppins.
Doing what we do best, we're pleased to announce that we've yet again given everyone more free file storage. Have a gander at our Pricing page if you don't believe us.
If you used to pay for storage above your plan's limit, you're probably paying nothing for those files now. And if you've been holding back from uploading files for fear of passing your limit, well, fear no longer—each plan has a lot of free storage.
In case you didn't know, you can do a lot of stuff with files. You can embed audio and video files in your courses so your students can stream them anywhere on almost any device. Faculty and students can upload and exchange assignment files—and instructors can even annotate documents with feedback. Plus there's all the humdrum stuff—files in the Activity Feed, the Files app, profile pictures, application files... and so on.
Since files are such an important part of how our customers use Populi, we're happy to give everyone more opportunity to take full advantage of the functionality—without having to pay extra.
Early in the morning of Friday, August 1, we released a number of upgrades to student billing together with a smattering of improvements to other areas of Populi. Here's the low-down:
We gave tuition schedules some new features and changed how they relate to courses and programs.
Refunds are altogether better and more usable than they used to be:
New fee rules for course delivery method and term name (e.g., the fee only triggers in the Fall term) give you new options for automating fees.
You can now edit the posted date of a transaction at the time that you add it. So, when you invoice charges, you can change the posted date; or when you run a financial aid batch disbursement, you can change the posted date for those transactions. And so on...
The preset IPEDS reports in Academics > Reporting got a couple of nice upgrades.
Read about all of the week's updates (including bugfixes) in the Release Notes.