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It's a tough job, taking a handful of rowdy kids and making them sit still and try to learn. If you think teachers have it easy, you organize 25 six year olds to do anything. Now try it for eight hours a day, five days a week, nine months out of the year. At the very least, there ought to be apps to make some of this -- at least the grading and attendance -- easier.
Gradekeeper by Daniel Etheir is one of those software teachers swear by. In Mac and PC flavors, the desktop version has been around for years. The layout is a simple calendar spreadsheet laid with students' names in one column and assignments in a row at the top.
This desktop version is plain but does exactly everything you need it to
First the good news about the iPad version. Any gradebook you've already made on the desktop can be imported into Gradekeeper for iPad through iTunes. And you can export back to your desktop. The app also has tons of the same functionalities as the desktop. Attendance can be checked off easily, seating charts can be arranged, and grades can be entered on a curve.
Enter your grades and even curve it a little
The bad news is that even if you've worked with Gradekeeper on the desktop, the app doesn't make things easy for you from the get go. Very little about the app feels natively iOS but more like a port with some familiar minimalist design. There are precious few tips or tutorial information packed into the app and the row of icons that run up the sides of the app aren't as explanatory as you'd like.
Tapping the question mark did get us some help
Each button you tap along the side takes you to a new screen and you can figure out what they do eventually, but you may struggle in the beginning. Tap the folder icon to see a list of your classes. If you want to add one, tap the + sign in the upper corner. A box will appear that allows you to put in the school name, the teacher name, the subject, and how many terms or semesters you'll be teaching. Easy enough, but what if you make a mistake or type it wrong?
There's no way to delete or alter it if you do, so you either live with your mistake, or you fire up your Mac, get iTunes going, plug in your iPad, and delete the gradebook in its entirety. Or export it, make changes, and import it back to correct. This seems a bit of a backward way of doing things.
We could not escape this screen save by closing the app entirely and starting again
How do you get back out of something? We tapped the + sign to create a new class but until we named this class, we were stuck on that screen. Every button prompted for a class name. We didn't even want this new class but our finger accidentally brushed over the button. There was nothing for it but to shut down the app and open it again. Mercifully this took us out of that screen.
An icon of a dog-eared piece of paper will give you a class list, the calendar gives you an attendance list, and the four tiny squares clustered together gives you the seating chart. There are also a gear icon which isn't settings but does bring up screens you can view such as the dates of the quarters for your classes and a breakdown of your grades but none of this is easily customizable. The question mark icon gave tips for each screen you were on, which was a lifesaver ultimately. A lower case i button puts you in contact with the developer.
Importing from the desktop is a lifesaver even if it is a little backwards feeling
True, you can make and use the gradebooks directly in the iPad, but Gradekeeper for the iPad takes an awful lot of work to set things up and fixing mistakes or editing your work is unnecessarily difficult. If anything, the app feels more like an extension of the desktop version. After half an hour trying to put in one class and all the assignments, we gave up and made it on our desktop then imported through iTunes.
You'll pay twice as much money (app only) for GradeBook Pro by Eric Lombardo but beyond the pretty face is the question of whether or not the app is worth five more dollars. Without a desktop counterpart, GradeBook Pro has to rely on the app being sufficiently intuitive that there isn't any really need for one.
Much more iOS-y than the other app, no?
For starters, this app is much more in tune with the overall iOS experience. The background is even the sort of thatched gray pattern from the iWork suite and elsewhere.
In landscape mode, we are given a two pane screen. In portrait, the left hand side is a pop over pane when you tap a button. Your class list is on this left hand side and students and assignments are on the right. Tap the + sign on the left hand pane and a screen pops up for you to fill in the class name, which semester you're in and when it starts and stops. You can also choose weighted grading or standard. A nice touch is that when you go to add a second class, the term name you've already created is in the system; choose it and the start and end dates autopopulate for you. And if you make a mistake, it's easy to delete a class or change the name or dates of it.
Options, options, options
Adding students is simple enough, though we must admit as we sat there typing individual student names, we missed Gradekeeper's ease of importing gradebooks we made on the desktop. However, getting students into the GradeBook Pro was as easy as creating a small CSV text file (instructions for the format are in the Help files in the app). You can import this into the app through iTunes or by linking your Dropbox account with the app for pure mobility.
Dropbox integration for importing CSV files and exporting grade databases
There is, unfortunately, no way to import your assignments with a CSV file, so these had to be hand-added. Again, the instruction document provided walked us through every step of the process. Tap on your class from the Class List, then tap Assignments from the buttons across the bottom of the app. This brings up the assignment pane where you can tap the + sign to add an assignment or you can sort assignments, delete them from your list, and best of all, copy them from another class. So if you teach multiple times of the same class, make your assignments one time and you're done.
Add your assignments individually or copy them from elsewhere
Once you've got an assignment on the books, tap on it in your class view and it brings up all of your students. Tap in the open box next to their name to add their scores into the system.
Attendance is easily handled too
There are places throughout the app to add notes if you ned them. You can email the entire class if you have their contact information and there's a simple attendance sheet to mark if your students are there. If you worry about data loss, you can export your gradebooks or save them to your Dropbox folder. All in all, the experience takes advantage of the mobile experience.
We almost hate to dog on Gradekeeper for iPad as much as we've used the desktop version of the software. But the iPad app just feels like an afterthought or, as we said earlier, like a port over to the different platform but a not very thorough or thought out one. GradeBook Pro was conceived from the ground up as an iOS app and that shows clearly in every feature from its Dropbox integration to its paned viewing screens. If there were a shorthand way to encapsulate everything different about them we'd say Gradekeeper is a PC and GradeBook is a Mac. If you've invested your life in Gradekeeper, it may be worth it to you. Otherwise, GradeBook Pro takes the unpleasant drudgery of grading and almost makes it fun.
Makes commenting on essays a snap
While both apps above are about entering grades themselves, GatsbysLight has created Essay Grader which is a copy and paste rubric with pre-designed comments broken out into various categories. This makes creating a feedback document for your students quick and easy and gets rid of the whole hard to read handwriting issue. You grade the paper, add comments about the paper's thesis and grammar, throw in some comments specific to the paper, and then you email the document back to your students. It comes in a Mac App version ($14.99), a PC version, and an iPad version ($5.99).