## Saturday, April 18, 2009

### Practical Matters

I'll take a break from the heavy philosophy of assessment stuff, and write about two little tricks that make my life a bit easier in the hopes someone else may benefit as well.

The first applies to anyone who still grades the old-fashioned way and ends up subtracting from 100% a lot. It's generally a pain to subtract from 100 because of the 'borrowing' algorithm that we're taught in this country. In Germany and other countries they use a 9's complement approach that I'll show you here. I'll apply it specifically to the 100 problem, but it works for any situation. It's embarassingly simple:
Because 100 = 99 + 1, subtracting from 100 is the same as subtracting from 99 and then adding one.
This makes a big difference because you never have to 'borrow' from 99. Moreover, the subtraction is easy-peasy because each subtraction is symetrical: 9-4 = 5 and so 9-5=4. This makes it all very painless.
Example: If you add up a student's points off and get 27, you can 'flip' 27 around 99, and get 72. Add one and you're done: 73% correct.
Example: 100 - 59 would be 99 - 59 = 40, 40 + 1 = 41.
I know it's not really that difficult to subtract from 100 to begin with, but this makes the process almost fun, and after grading dozens of paper, anything that makes my head hurt a little less is welcome.

The second practical matter is a simple way I've evolved to for organizing projects. I have a lot of projects going on simultaneously in all kinds of domains. There are lots of sophisticated project managers that you can find online, and I've tried out many of them. I finally realized, however, that the amount of information I need to document about most projects is pretty minimal. The most important bit of information is simply recording that the project exists. If management is through some complex system, there will always be things that fall off the table because someone didn't take the time to enter the information. Secondly, a simple green/yellow/red status flag is sufficient for most things. (Use blue instead of green if you have colorblind users.) Finally, a hyperlink to a file or other resource to document details of the project is desirable. I find everything I need with the combination of a mindmeister mind map, and etherpad documents. Both are free for the basics, which is enough for me currently. A section of my project tree looks like this:
The arrows on nodes are hyperlinks to resources. You can make the whole thing editable by others. Etherpad docs, by design, are very open and perfect for collaboration. I don't feel like I'm creating more work for myself using this combination of tools--it's very natural. For bigger projects, a more robust tool will probably be useful, but for keeping track of a large set of small and medium-sized projects, this is perfect. I could wish for calendar features and summary reports and such, but within my current scale of operations, this hasn't become critical.