I thought that skills-based grading generated a lot of data — so much that I couldn’t have done it without a subscription to a specially-designed software product.  I thought that cam-scanning their work to enable instant feedback generated a lot of data, and it did — I filled an 8GB memory stick this semester.  But that only kept track of which parts of my discipline’s “canon” my students knew or didn’t know.

This semester, I also needed to keep track of what they thought instead.  Also, what they were curious about.  What they had researched, what they had succeeded in adding to the model, and what they wanted to know about next.  The better I did at keeping track of this for each student, the better I was able to give feedback and ask questions that related to what they thought about, hadn’t noticed yet, or cared about.  When I finally wrestled the data into submission (about 3 weeks before the end of the term), it was in a spreadsheet and looked like this.

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The far left column contains the questions.  I keep track of who asked them, when, and why they seemed significant.  If that question gets answered, I’ll fill in who proposed the answer, the date it was accepted, and the exact wording as accepted by the class.  See all the little Xs on the right?  I try to notice which themes are popular, and tag a question with an X for as many categories as it seems to belong to.  In the far right column, I can mark the question as active or inactive (if it has been answered, or the class has done some housecleaning and deemed it no longer relevant).

I like this approach because it requires much less work to set up than even a simple database, and works fine if I only need to make very simple queries.  For example, I can sort on the “Asked by” column to find all the questions asked by a particular student, by the date to get a chronology, by a particular topic (such as “batteries”), or by which questions are still in play.  If I want to get fancy, I can sort by “Active” and “Asked on” to find the question that’s been outstanding the longest (I think it’s “can atoms touch.”  That one nearly started a fist fight).

I try to keep the wording as faithful as possible to the way the student asked it (I can tack some notes into the blank columns at the far right if I think I will need to remind myself what they mean.  My most significant mistake at first was not keeping track of the context in which the question arose.  Significance is on the back burner of my students’ minds, but very much on the front burner of mine.