Mac Lab Report

Typing in Student Names vs. Importing Them

- 2003.10.23

Publisher's note: It was the start of the school year when Jeff Adkins sent in this article. Really. But some other issues took precedence, and this kept getting moved back in the queue. dk

Well, it's the beginning of the year, and as all teachers do, I am getting my gradebook ready for the beginning of the semester.

Each year the school provides us with a list of names (called a roster in EdSpeak) which has student ID numbers, grade level, and other information. Computer savvy teachers dutifully type the information into their gradebook program of choice, technodolts scratch it into a too small space in a little book, and the tech elite import it from a file - if they can get the file.

Or so I thought, until this year.

Over the years I have developed an elaborate and ugly system for persuading ClassXP (a class management program written for the district's convenience, not for that of teachers) to export my student information. Just to get name, grade, ID number, and class period requires taking a workshop course and a programmed learning manual - I'm not kidding - that teaches you how to write "queries" or boolean-type database requests that are fulfilled slower than, shall we say, Quake on a Quadra.

I export this, import the date into Excel, split it into columns, export with commas, arrange the order just so, and finally reimport the data into Grade Machine, for which I have built a filter to accept this data.

When I shared my method with some other teachers, they just laughed and said, "I'd rather type than go through all that." But you geekish types know how it is. If it can be done without typing, it should, because that's what a computer is for.

Also, I suffer from carpal-tunnel syndrome - I've had it since before it became a buzzword - and repetitive typing makes my hands tingle. You wouldn't know it from the lengthy articles I post, but it's true.

Then it occurred to me that if I did type the student names, I would at least be reading them. Since I'm kind of slow learning student names anyway, this is a good thing, isn't it? Not to mention thinking about how to pronounce them before I call roll on the first day, which I couldn't get from a hands-off importing process, the entire purpose of which is to keep me from typing the names of the very students I'm about to teach. Surely they deserve enough individual attention that I can afford to type each name.

All 192 of them.

Did I mention our school is kind of overcrowded?

Anyway, I'm an advocate of technology, obviously, but as I've said to others, just because you can do something with a computer doesn't mean you should. And this year, I think I'll be typing a little more.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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