Next Generation Comment Writing

We successfully began the move from paper-based comment writing (by faculty for students) to database comment writing about three years ago. We built a custom solution through our Filemaker Pro SIS system, in that US faculty have a “Comment Writer” application that automatically links to their classes and students when it is time to write comments. Additionally, it links them to their advisees comments as part of the process so they can review, change and print out their advisees’ comments in advance of them going home.

Overall, the system is pretty advanced, with multiple history versions of all comments as they are revised, repeated general comments, styled text pasting. In the end, the faculty mostly compose their comments in Word and then cut and paste them into the system when they are back on campus. This allows them to write comments anywhere, and have a solid backup in case there are any problems with the heavily-used database in the final stages of pasting, reading and printing.

For the Lower and Middle Schools, which are primarily on Macs, we’ve been dragging our feet a bit. It is harder to get the client software installed on the Macs, and the reports in the Lower School are much more sophisticated than the Upper School forms. So for next year, we’re going to an online comment writing system. Our FileMaker server will provide a secure online portal to paste in reports for students and to read the comments of advisees. We will do this with either the automatic page creation options in FileMaker Server 8, or use the latest version of Lasso to achieve it.

For our faculty, this means they will continue to compose in Word, but then they can cut and paste in the comments at home as well as school. More importantly, we won’t have to install and configure client software on their laptops (a 20 minute process in many cases). To begin, we may pass on the option of styled text, but add a Java interface the second year so that text can be made italic or underlined, etc.

It will be a job to recreate the LS reports into web forms, and we make make templates in Word so that they can choose check boxes, etc., as they compose the text parts of the reports. The Word element is still a bit clunky, but the important thing is that we can free both faculty and staff from the worst part of the old way of doing things– the printing, duplicating, collation and gathering parts of the process.

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