Does "CULearn" Make the Grade?

Does "CULearn" Make the Grade?

Online gradebooks, such as CULearn, are an “implementation of Blackboard software” according to Michael Grant, Associate Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Of the 239 top ranked universities according to U.S News & World Report, 150 of them, over half, use Blackboard technologies. Grade reporting by means of the internet is becoming more and more common at the college level. Online grade books have many practical uses in the education system but there are still kinks to be worked out too.

Why Use Online Gradebooks?

There has to be some reason he majority of higher education institutions are making the switch to blackboard technologies. According to Michael Grant, the University of Colorado started using the gradebook software to “provide an 'inside the class' chat room or social medium connection… [and] provide online viewing of in progress grades and assignment changes”. The instant ability to see grades in progress opens up the need for communication between students and professors, and the ability to “chat” with the professor outside of class and office hour time rectifies that.
However, all that may not interest a student. As a student, you may be asking “why should I care about my professors posting grades online?” Well, imagine this situation if you will. You’re at CU because of and academic scholarship. Without the scholarship, you couldn’t afford to go to college. The scholarship requires you to have above a 3.0, but you took some hard classes this semester, and you’re barely above 3.0. You just finished your last final before winter break, and it’s in chemistry. You’re not that good at chemistry, and didn’t do that well on the midterm, but you studied your ass off for the final. You get out of the final not knowing how well you did. It could have been enough to keep your grade a B and let you keep your scholarship, or it could have dropped you to a C, making you lose your scholarship. Normally, you’d have to find out the next semester, when they tell you that your scholarship is gone, or when you find out they’re still paying for your school. Well, with online gradebooks, you can find out during break, as soon as the exam is graded, from the comfort of your own home.
Now I know not everyone is in that situation, but in a world where we have easy, instant access to whatever information we want to know, we find it hard to wait to hear back about our grades. But this instant feedback really is beneficial to us. We can easily know when we’ve mastered a subject, and when we need to work harder in it. We can know when to not waste time studying, and when to study as hard as we can. Because of online gradebooks, we can quickly and easily check on our performance, and adjust accordingly

Instant Feedback

The fast paced world we live in abhors anything slow. “Snail mail”, or sending letters through the post office, has all but been replaced by email, texting, and other, faster forms of communication. Instead of waiting for the newspaper, people can go check the most recent news online, and follow stories as they happen. The internet has spoiled us to expect everything to be on hand exactly when we want it. It’s comparable to Verruca Salt from Willy Wonka, how she got everything she wanted, when she wanted it, and now she just expects it to happen. Growing up in this world of instant gratification, our “I want an Oompa Loompa now” generation has become used to getting what they want, when they want it.
This doesn’t end in the world of education. New technologies, like online gradebooks, satisfy this impatience our generation has, gained from never waiting for anything. Students are able to follow their progress in classes in real time, the minute it changes. Most students agree it is a good thing. CU freshman Anthony Webb says “I’m so glad I can follow my grades in Chemistry. I don’t have to worry about how I’m doing in that class, because I can see every time my professor posts a grade.” Ryan Witte, a freshman at the University of Texas, says he has grown up with online grades since middle school. “I haven’t had to wait for a report card in 7 years. I’m just used to seeing them online.” With instant feedback from online gradebooks, students don’t need to worry about grades, and they can satisfy their hunger for instant gratification.

Benefits to Students


Online grade books give students instant feedback on how they are preforming in their classes. Every time a student takes a test or a quiz, or even submits their homework, with online grading they can find out how they did as soon as the professor grades it. In classes that meet only occasionally, like once or twice a week, this feedback outside of class is vital. It is a much faster and more efficient way of letting students know how they’re doing in classes.
Many students enjoy being able to track their grades in real time. Zachary Savage said he prefers professors that post grades on CU learn. “My physics grade seems so much more straightforward because my professor posts grades on CU learn. It’s easier for me to track my progress and see how I’m doing…In my classes that don’t use it, I can only guess how I’m doing…I think all my teachers should use it.” CU Senior Kyle Ertle has used the system for 4 years, and to him, CULearn is “very helpful to see which classes [he’s] doing well in, so [he] can study less for those, and [he] can see which classes [he’s] doing poorly in, so [he] can study more. It’s good for those 18 or 20 credit semesters.”
Tracking each individual assignment online helps students to know when they need to study more. “I see my quiz grades posted online, and I know when I need to study more for my tests, or I know when I understand the material” said Anthony Webb. This isn’t unique to him, as CU freshman Zachary Savage said “in my Physics class, the professor posts the exam answers on CULearn a couple days after the test. I can see what I did wrong, and I can see what I did right, and if I have questions I can go to office hours and learn to fix what I did wrong from my professor or a TA.” Online grade reporting not only helps students know if they’re learning, but it also helps them to continue learning even after the exams.

Disadvantages to Students

Many students will not check their grades online, causing them to lose any learning advantages online grades offer. Whether the students don’t know how to use the online system, or they just don’t care enough to do it, several students I asked don’t check their CULearn account regularly. Freshman Ian Langer says “I don’t really care enough about my grades to check them online. I’ll get what I get as a final grade.” This attitude doesn’t benefit the student, but as of yet, there’s nothing that can force students to check grades. There is no system that will inform the student if they are failing a course.
Many teachers also choose not to post grades in online gradebooks, as it is not required. All of the students interviewed said they have or have had classes that don’t post grades in real time. Overall, they say more than half of their classes did not post updated grades on CULearn. A student cannot use the many advantages associated with tracking grades through the semester if there are no grades to track. Teachers have to help students help themselves.

Teacher Point of View


This online system is also for the most part easier for teachers. Instead of calculating the complex weighing of grades by hand, they can put the grades into a spreadsheet that calculates grades for them. It makes grade tracking so much more convenient for teachers.
The other side of this is that some teachers become frustrated with the format of the system, and don’t use it. Only one of my classes uses an online gradebook, for instance, and as stated earlier, around half of the classes of the students interviewed. There are also professors who don’t even give online gradebooks a chance. Whether it’s from pure stubbornness or because they’re unfamiliar with the technology, Senior Kyle Ertle said most of his older professors never used CULearn. Also, grades can be misentered and someone can get 180 out of 20, instead of 18. That problem can be easily fixed when the students recognize there is a problem, they can go to the professor and get it fixed, or the professor can see the problem and fix it him or herself.
Professor Tom Schrand from Philadelphia University, who wrote the article “Online Gradebooks: Surprising Accomplishments”, says online gradebooks “fostered a healthy level of instructor accountability in [his] classes”. He had to adjust his grading policies to make things like attendance and participation quantifiable measurements. Instead of making marks and determining grades based on “a series of checks, dashes, and check ‘pluses’”, he had to make grades that students could understand, and didn’t rely on his discretion. This improves the system, making grading a more objective thing, and leaves less room for people to argue “this teacher just doesn’t like me”.

In Conclusion…

The desire for students to get instant feedback, while born of a hatred and fear of waiting, has actually, for the most part, improved education for students. Instant performance feedback in classes can benefit the students who choose to use it. However, some students don’t get the benefit, either because their professor chooses not to post grades online, or because the student chooses not to check. Regardless of this, the majority of universities in the United States provides some medium for teachers to post grades, and students to check them.
The ability to track progression through a course is very beneficial to students and to improving learning, and the gradebooks don’t hurt the teachers either. As with any new technology, however, there are bugs that need to be fixed, and a few stubborn mules who refuse to use it.
As we move forward into the future, it’s very possible that this need for feedback will be stepped up even further, to a point where we get email alerts when we do poorly on a test, or our grades are texted to us as soon as they are updated. Who knows what the future will hold for students as we progress through the age of instant gratification.

Matt N

Works Cited

Ertle, Kyle. Personal Interview, 11/10/10.
Grant, Michael. Personal Email interview, 11/4/10.
“U.S.News & World Report's Top Ranked Colleges and Universities Use Blackboard”. PRNewswire. 10/19/04. Web. 11/7/10.
Langer, Ian. Personal Interview, 11/4/10.
Savage, Zachary. Personal interview, 11/4/10.
Schrand, Tom. “ Online Grade Books: Surprising Accomplishments” The Teaching Professor , April 2008.
Webb, Anthony. Personal Interview, 10/29/10.
Witte, Ryan. Personal Email Intervier, 11/5/10.