Teaching With Gadgets

How Technology Can Help Today's Teacher

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Would Somebody Please?!

While I will sing the joys about my Tablet PC to anyone that cares to listen, there are simply times during the school day that carrying a PDA is more convenient. I find it a joy to have a device, slightly more than six ounces, that can rest easily in my pocket. When I need it I simply can turn it on, scribble my notes, and put it back into my pocket.

The one area in which Palm has always lead over Windows Mobile is in the area of electronic gradebooks. I know you may be thinking "why not simply use a spreadsheet?" Spreadsheets are OK but are no substitute for databases. At the very least I need a program that will allow me to create assignments, add a category, and mark either on a rubric or by standard grading.

There are MANY gradebooks that exist for the Palm platform. While there are standalone programs (ie. Teacher's P.E.T.), I would much rather have a program that joins up with a desktop database program. Some notables in this category include programs by Pinnacle Software and Easygradepro.

That's not to say all is lost on Windows Mobile - it's just that the options are not desirable. Teacher's Assistant Professional is a powerful gradebook that has both Palm and Windows Mobile support. This problem is that it only works on the PC platform. Also, you cannot create assignments on the device - they must be created on the desktop program and then transferred over. Bummer....

Easy Grade Pro has long been a popular program amongst teachers. While the capturing of annecdotal comments is not strong (and non-existant on the PDA side), I can live without that. For the 2006-2007 school year they are even adding the ability to grade by standards. However, they only offer a Palm app. Sure, the Windows Mobile application is in the works but they will not commit to a date. I call that vapourware.

There is Gradekeeper which is a pretty good little program created for both Mac and PC, Palm and Windows Mobile. It is cheap (only $20 US) as well! My only issue with this program is in it's cummulative reporting. I'm an elementary teacher and have 9 different subject classes that I teach. The program only prints one subject (with all assignment grades) per page. There is no date-range selecting. The spells A LOT of paper!! We don't have unlimited budgets in school. I did write to the creator who replied that he doesn't add that type of reporting because he doesn't want to make the program that complicated. Fair enough.

I'm frustrated! It seems that teacher gradebooks are written by programmers, not teachers. If you're an IT person or programmer, please do not take that as a knock against you (I have time toward a minor in computer science). However, it takes a teacher to know what type of software a teacher wants. While some good programs have been written by teachers on the Palm side, it seems that no one wants to develop educational software for Windows Mobile. Here you have this amazing device but no truly useful PDA app for teachers (in my opinion).

On a final note, I have been using Gradebook Wizard this year. It's an amazing program and it's platform agnostic because it runs on the internet. The only downfall is that you pay a $49 US fee per year to use it (I use my classroom budget to cover the cost). Parents love it as they can view their child's grades and it has very powerful reporting features. While there is no PDA application for it, you can use any program that can collect data and then export in .txt or .csv format. Windows Mobile, with ListPro, really helps here.

You can also surf the gradebook with your PDA (although the tablet is better here). While I have no problem connecting to our District proxy server on my tablet or Palm, I cannot for the life of me figure it out on Windows Mobile (bad PIE, bad!). If I could maybe I would have 90% of my solution.

Developers! Help out your country's teachers and create something for Windows Mobile. Please?