What’s the deal with GradesFirst?

I heard some rumblings and grumblings about GradesFirst this week from enough peeps to warrant a post.

The good, the bad, the ugly on the matter as follows:

Good – Emails have been sent to keep us informed of all we have to do. Good to see the transparency. I think. (Sorry, I’m like Pavlov’s dog, only the dog got something good after the bell rang. For a while. I keep hearing the district bell and a bowl of district’s finest get’s placed under my nose. Unfortunately our tastes differ, but they never ask what I would like.)
Stop by the CAST room and get some assistance with GradesFirst and maybe get a cookie. Not a bad deal. Last time I had administration hold my hand and walk me through difficult times was when I voted on a new contract. Oh wait, that was an administrative ally from District disguised as a union president.

Bad – This all feels so rushed and discombobulated (don’t care if it’s a typo, adds to the spirit of sloppy and messy). I believe this GradesFirst was formally brought to our collective attention during FDW. You know, that week that was one week early, but not really if you read the contract and I could excuse myself from any kind of development? Looks like we were told what to do, but we weren’t really part of the discussion as to how it would have both a positive and negative impact on students and faculty. Funny how District was able to get this integrated into Blackboard, but we still can’t combine sections in PeopleSoft. When there’s a will from the top, there’s a way. My goodness! If only they could have given this much priority to a contract for the adjuncts; but alas, there is no facultyfirst software to take care of that. Which makes me wonder why this software isn’t called StudentFirst?
If you want to have some fun, go to the GradesFirst website and see if there is a clear indication of what their goal is. In philosospeak, that’s “telos“. Look all you want. You ain’t gonna find it. Scary, right?

Ugly – “Do I have to do this?” Some peeps aren’t sure what to do. They may not have “at risk” students but they still have to report something? Per one of the emails, looks like you gots to log in no matter what. If that’s true, and it is, are we mandated to do this? Which brings me back to “Do I have to do this?” Confusing mess all around. Guess that’s what happens when District takes an idea and runs with it. They ultimately run us over with the application of their collective thoughts. Any connection to the buses they just ordered? Somebody get an educator or two to enlighten those corporate-oriented minds. (Its’ a college district, not a private business!)

Please, please, clarify any mistakes I’ve made. Be critical of my facts. I want to be wrong. I really, really do.

9 thoughts on “What’s the deal with GradesFirst?

  1. There has been quite a bit of grumbling about GradesFirst. I think we need to pick our battles. Does anyone remember Starfish? A pilot group of faculty used Starfish (another early alert system) a few years ago. Starfish did integrate with Blackboard. Gradesfirst doesn’t. That in and of itself makes the choice suspicious. Don’t get me wrong. I do in theory sort of like the idea behind GradesFirst (just like I did Starfish) but I have some concerns. Luckily, many of them are moot since we are not mandated (nor can or should we be) to use this. I did. I marked no students “at risk” because my students know that they are “at risk” when they look at their grades on Bb and when I talk to them. I have many thoughts about this so I need to quickly gather in list form.
    1. This isn’t mandated so what’s the fuss.
    2. There’s some paranoia in the grumblings about using the info against us. Who would use the information on GradesFirst and how could it possibly used to harm us? This seems like quite a stretch. GradesFirst is just a piece of software that was chosen to attempt to show that we’re trying every option to increase our retention and success rates for outside constituents . I’m not sure which faculty over the past few year said, “hey we need an early alert system.” Aren’t we the early alert system? It feels like it (this early alert idea) always came from above (it being Starfish and now GradesFirst). Truth be told, I was part of the Starfish group but even then had reservations about the logistics of an early alert system. We then had our own flavors of in-house early alerts but, again, I don’t think faculty were clamoring for them. Correct me if I’m wrong. The train of thought is running off the tracks; I’m getting confused. Let me move on.
    3. GradesFirst links students with advisers and eventually tutors. This confuses me a bit. It seems like a roundabout way to help the student. More concerning is the timeframe. So by 9/26, we submit our first “campaign.” Then what is the turn around time for students seeing an adviser? By the time they see the adviser, will it be too late? Inside sources say that the delay of the first campaign was due to working out these logistics. Why then not begin during spring semester, or (God forbid) wait a year to unveil GradesFirst with every detail in place, possibly piloted so the kinks can be worked out. Why does logic fail to factor into so many large decisions? I should know better than to ask that question.
    4. The fact that there has been so much support is really great. That is the one positive in this. Also, I have to say that the sessions during FDW for GradesFirst were great.
    5. But…like usual, with any new initiative, it would be nice to get a little more advanced notice. There was little mention of the existence of GradesFirst during the spring semester. While putting together FDW, at the near end of spring semester, I was told that some training for GradesFirst would need to be included. I can echo what Realist says about the hastiness of this. Luckily, many adjuncts were at FDW, which was great, but not tons attended the GradesFirst sessions. I was expecting at least a full-blown session at DWFDW but that never occurred.
    6. Some clarification from above: “Per one of the emails, looks like you gots to log in no matter what. If that’s true, and it is, are we mandated to do this?” This is not true. The campaigns are links which bring you right in. You are automatically logged in when you click the link, making it very simple. But, like I said earlier, you cannot be forced to do this. I would hope that there are no repercussions for those choosing not to do this. Although, it is literally 2 clicks to mark no one at risk. My more cynical (and I’m cynical) colleagues may say that 2 clicks are already too much. I take a different approach. Like Bb which we have for better or for worse, why not try this and see if we like it. If it “saves” a few students, then isn’t it worth it. BTW, that’s why Starfish was called Starfish, because of the story about the old man throwing starfish back into the ocean. You’ve heard it.
    7. This is getting long but I mentioned earlier that I do have some issues. So let me contradict myself for a second and voice some of what I’ve heard (and somewhat agree with) in conversations with my peers. GradesFirst is an early alert system, right? Do our 4 year counterparts, the schools our students are transferring to, use this? Is this too much hand holding? We offer a college success course, not mandated to new students, not included in load for faculty. We each have our own teaching philosophy and style. Can you put the pieces of an argument together? While I am trying this software, I have reservations about the implications of nurturing responsibility on the part of our students. Luckily, it’s not mandated, so if you are a hand-holder (which is not a bad thing), then perhaps this is a glove. If you aren’t, you needn’t use it but maybe it will make you (by you I really mean me since I can only speak for myself though) more cognizant to encourage student development of “productive dispositions” for success in college (see Don’s post about “grit” and the CAST website (tinyurl.com/CASThwc) for an article on this idea.).

    Enough. The baby’s up. Rip this to shreds if need be.

    • Oh, and how could I forget the language used in the e-mail to students. We did discuss the wording during FDW but as far as I know, it is still somewhat harsh. Correct me if I’m wrong someone in on those conversations but is the term “at risk of failing” being used in the e-mail to students. That would be quite a claim to make during Week 4 or 5. That was actually my mine reason for not “flagging” any students. I actually talked to my Math 98 class about this very issue and assured them that if they got an e-mail for another class, to not freak out.

    • re: how this could be used against us:
      I used to work for a for-profit college, and they had several systems like this in place. We had to file reports like this every week. They used them against instructors all the time. If a students failed or went MIA or whatever, they often looked to the instructor and asked “why didn’t you let us know he/she was in trouble?”

      I’m not saying we’re there (yet), but I think that might be the source of the fear. In my example above, students were treated much more like “customers” than students (shudder).

  2. This isn’t so much of a grumble as it is a sigh. Deep breath. Sigh.
    We’ve been through this before. HWC had Starfish, Truman had Early Alert, a home-grown system.
    Of those 2 “proofs of concept”:
    How much paperwork was generated?
    How many students were saved?

    No answers. Yeah, I thought so.

    I’m a part-time peep, so I’m not privy to much of the info that gets disseminated to the full-timers. I got the same email saying “Log in & Report!”. So I did. Students highlighted in the “orders” email weren’t at risk, but I had to report on them. I poked around the utility & found names of students who ARE at risk, so I reported on them, as well.

    For 8 students reported at risk, I received 2 responses from academic advisors.
    The first said that s/he had tried to phone the student, but the number given was not in service. Case closed.
    The second said s/he had sent an email to the student’s ccc email account requesting a meeting. No response from the student. [most of my students don’t like to use ccc email, so it’s unlikely that this student will ever get the message]. Case closed?

    Now what? I don’t know. What kinds of reports are the administrators going to cull from data being generated? And will any of the over-scheduled academic advisors take another chance at contacting the ones at risk?

    Like I said, this is not a grumble, but a sigh. I wonder what resources (if any) can be applied to students like the ones above — who seem determined to fall through the cracks.

  3. Unrealistic,

    No matter what subject you are whining about, you always seem to try to get a dig in about our union and its leadership. Why not try running for office yourself? My prediction is that the percentage in favor of Perry would be the same as that of the ratification of our new contract, 70-80%. I guess you think you are just smarter than all the rest of us.

    • Hi Unrealistic,
      How doth thou know if I am or am not an officer in the union?
      Must I be on the outside looking in, in order to be critical of my leadership?
      Is it not possible to be on the inside and be critical?

      Don’t get me wrong, Unrealistic. I appreciate your post and your concern. Point well taken. I’d like to take a true vote to determine how many members are in favor of our current union president. If your prediction of 70-80% were to be true, I’d humbly give you a virtual handshake and pat on the back.
      However, it would not stop me from being critical and speaking on behalf of the 20-30% of members that would not be in favor of our current union president.

      I hope we can continue this discussion. I believe it is critical to the success of our union to be honest about how we feel.

      I welcome you to educate me on the benefits that our union has gained since we elected this current union president. I don’t mean that sarcastically, I mean it in the true spirit of hearing what the other side (which has remained silent throughout the buckley CCC contract tour, and mind you, you say it could be 70-80%) has to say.

      By the way, I’m not placing you on the pro-president side just because your comments lead me to believe it. I respect your words and acknowledge that you may be questioning my position, and that’s totally fine with me. Let’s hear each other out.


  4. I’m actually hoping someone can help me with this: I generated an “at risk” report for a student but — without realizing it — had selected two students (I didn’t realize that was possible, and hence hadn’t unclicked the first). There appeared to be no way to edit the report — nor was I able to delete it.

    I sent an additional report, but it appears that the counselor never got it — probably because she only ran an “at risk” report. I also emailed the Grades First help and haven’t gotten a response.

    This strikes me as a big issue. Has anyone else had that problem?

    • For the time being, if I were you, I’d e-mail the student who you didn’t want to mark “at risk” and let them know they received the message in error given that they will be (and someone correct if I’m wrong on this one) one of the first to get the e-mail saying they are “at risk.” Whichever adviser is assigned to the student could also be notified though I’m not sure where they information resides. Ephrem (erabin@ccc.edu) or Audrey (ABerns@ccc.edu) likely have the true answer to this question. I would e-mail them rather than GradesFirst itself. One of them at least may be able to (Monday likely) retrieve the information about the adviser so the mechanisms can be stopped before they start.

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