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High marks for MIT’s new online grading system

Full implementation is planned for the 2011-2012 academic year.

As the end of the semester approaches, participants in the MIT Online Grading pilot will find the process of submitting final grades less stressful. The new online grading system replaces a predominantly paper-based process with a more flexible and streamlined process. When you consider that each year the Registrar’s Office processes more than 39,000 grades in the fall and 37,000-plus in the spring, this more efficient and convenient system will significantly improve the user experience of faculty, department staff and, ultimately, the students.

In a partnership between Information Services and Technology (IS&T) and the Registrar’s Office, the Online Grading project began in March 2010. Faculty contributors, academic administrators, and central staff across MIT were asked to define requirements and help design the system’s interface. The result is an application that enforces faculty policy in a user-friendly manner.
  • Securely reporting grades: The system requires a valid MIT certificate and records the ID of the user and the time of the transaction. It also has defined roles, which allows many users to enter and save grades, while ensuring that all grades have been vetted by approved faculty.
  • More flexibility: Faculty and staff are no longer limited to reporting grades when administrative offices are open. Grades can be securely reported at any time, 24/7. Faculty can also update grades directly from their own local databases or spreadsheets into the system.
  • Better quality data: Each subject’s grading mode and the student’s grading option (such as Junior-Senior P/D/F) are defined. This limits the grades that can be entered to those that fit the criteria.
  • Faster availability of grades to students: Grades are posted every 15 minutes. From the time a faculty member submits grades until the time students can see their grades on WebSIS is 15 minutes or fewer.
  • Better tracking and archival data: The system was developed to ensure that vital information is collected for faculty committees, such as the Committee on Academic Performance (CAP), that track and evaluate student academic progress. At the same time, faculty can easily retrieve and review grades submitted for previous terms.
IAP’s early adopters

During Independent Activities Period (IAP) in January 2011, the first online grading pilot was conducted across four departments and in 25 subjects. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive with fewer than 10 change requests. Scott Alessandro, associate director of MIT Sloan School of Management's Educational Services and academic administrator for Course 15, said, “It was wonderful to eliminate (or work on eliminating) a paper-based process. It made the process much more secure and helped to target grading issues earlier, instead of after submissions.”

According to Alessandro, one of the most beneficial things about the new system is “assigning TAs and administrative assistants as enterers so that you don’t have to track down who should be filling out grades and where the grade sheets are.”

Asked about his overall experience with the online grading system, Alessandro commented, “Administratively, we could say with confidence that the ‘T’ in MIT stands for technology.”

Moving ahead

An expanded Online Grading pilot began in the spring 2011 term, with full implementation of the system planned for the 2011-2012 academic year.

The online grading system is one of several digitization projects at MIT that are part of the Education Systems Roadmap. Digitization provides convenience and flexibility for the end user, but it also provides opportunities to enhance guidance and advice through smart messages, use of logic, enforcement of rules and rich user interaction tools, all within a secure environment. We welcome these opportunities to enhance the experiences of faculty, students and staff.

If you have questions about online grading, contact Mary Callahan, registrar, and/or Eamon Kearns, associate director for education systems in IS&T.

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