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By Annemarie Mountz
In keeping with the goal of becoming a more student-centered University, Penn State has gone high-tech with its grade reporting system for faculty.
Although students have been able to get their grades through eLion for a few years now, those grades were input using older, slower technology, and students had to wait until at least the first week in January to find out their fall semester grades. Now, faculty can use eLion to enter their grades directly online from anywhere in the world, and students are able to access them in real-time.
Some faculty used eLion to enter their grades in fall 2001, but this past semester was the first one in which almost all faculty used the system. As of Jan. 3, a total of 5,356 course instructors entered their fall semester grades using eLion. Of all grades recorded by Jan. 3, 86 percent were recorded using eLion. Only 43 grade rosters from 18 faculty members were sent to the Registrar's office for entry.
"From the time the University offices closed at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20, until opening Thursday, Jan. 2, nearly 100,000 grades were recorded using eLion," said University Registrar James Wager. "If we had been following last year's grade collection procedures, these grades would not have been recorded until the first week in January."
Students seem to like the change.
"It's convenient," said Jennifer Maffucci, a senior psychology student. "When I was home over break I checked eLion every few days to see if my grades were there. They all were posted before I got back in January."
Maffucci said she prefers the new system. "It's much better compared to the old way," she said. "This semester, eLion had my grades posted faster. It's definitely an improvement."
The faculty are seeing benefits in the system, as well.
"It is a lot quicker and easier than writing in the grades and filling in those little circles" on the old scan sheets, said Cynthia Finch, senior lecturer in the College of the Liberal Arts.
"The system is straightforward and easy to use," said Rob Shannon, associate professor of agricultural engineering. Shannon was one of the first faculty to test-drive the system when it was first developed in summer 2001.
"Admittedly, I was still a little apprehensive about the switch to a paperless reporting system, but those apprehensions have vanished. I had no difficulties with the system this semester," he said.
According to Wager, the system trials began in the summer of 2001 with about 18 faculty. After they entered their grades, they were interviewed and their suggestions for improvement were implemented. The system was online for all faculty to use in fall 2001, but only about 100 faculty took advantage of the new system.
"One of the requirements to use this system is that the faculty member must have a SecureID card, and not many faculty had one at that time," said Wager.
Still, improvements continued to be made in the eLion grade reporting system, and Wager hoped that as time went on, more faculty would discover the convenience.
Then, last spring, the traditional way of collecting grades -- with instructors filling out scan sheets that then were input in the Registrar's Office -- failed, and many grades were incorrectly recorded.
"After that, we needed to take a hard look at the grade reporting system," said Wager. "We looked at the possibility of staying with the scanning process, but it seemed that everyone who was involved with that process lost confidence in it. We agreed that we were no longer going to use that technology, but instead turn to what is now a very well developed application on the Web."
The main drawback with relying on the e-Lion grade reporting system was that as of last spring, most faculty still did not have SecureID cards.
Rod Erickson, executive vice president and provost, took care of that by subsidizing the cost of equipping all faculty systemwide with SecureID cards.
"Using SecureID cards is the best way to ensure the security and integrity of the system. It prevents anyone but the faculty member from entering grades for any given course. This level of security is essential, so we did what we could to make sure all faculty could get SecureID cards as quickly as possible," said Erickson. "The adoption of the new technology also will permit Penn State to incorporate other Web-based applications for faculty that require a highly secure electronic environment."
This past semester, most faculty embraced the new system. Wager said there are a few reasons faculty adapted so quickly to the new technology.
"It's very easy. Faculty members sign onto a secure Web site and with the click of a mouse put in their grades. It's a simple process," said Wager.
It also allows faculty a lot more flexibility than they had in the past. For example, if a faculty member is ready to grade all students in the course except one or two, he or she can enter grades for all of the other students, and then come back later and enter the remaining grades.
"It also provides the faculty member with the ability to correct a mistake," said Wager. "If they do enter a wrong grade, they can go in and re-adjust it. Under the old system, they had to fill out a series of forms and get signatures before the change could be made."
As with any Web application, the eLion grade reporting system always will be a work in progress.
"One of the things we're working on right now is creating an additional capability that will benefit faculty who are teaching larger sections," said Wager. "I don't know when it will be ready to go live, but the new feature will accept a data file containing grades. Many faculty use some form of an electronic grade book. The idea would be to let them use their electronic grade books to compute their final grades and then send them to us in a data file, using eLion as the vehicle."
For more information
about eLion, log in to https://elion.oas.psu.edu/.
Annemarie Mountz can be reached at AMountz@psu.edu.