This is my final post about my grading rubric, and I’m going to use it to explain how I set up my export template to create comment sheets. But before I do that, I’m going to take a moment and explain why I think export can seem difficult. If you’re not interested, you skip it.
I’ve commented elsewhere about discovering how simple and flexible Tinderbox export is. I still believe this is true. Yet, every time I sit down to export something new, I find the task daunting. What gives?
I’m convinced the problem is conceptual and arises from the uniformity of the export function in every other application I use. In those programs, export is called “Print” and it functions in a single, predictable way: from top left to bottom right, line-by-line. Most importantly, this export generates a copy of the arrangement of materials visible on my screen. The trade off for this simplicity is that, because document organization and export organization are synonymous, I must organize my document according to the fixed rules of printing. (This is a constraint we all live productively with most of the time.)
Tinderbox does not work in this way. I can organize my notes however I want and from that organization create whatever export file I want. Working in a file and exporting from that file are largely independent process. In a lot of ways that’s a very good thing. Something like my course map wouldn’t be possible if I were constrained by the rules governing “Print.” The cost of the flexibility can, however, feel considerable when the few default export options aren’t enough and I’m confronted with the problem of how to imagine and to create a “Print” that is adequate to my needs.
Oddly enough, I don’t think that the difficulty involved in coming up with “Print” is found in the export code. In my opinion, export code is much simpler than agent queries and action code. So what’s the problem? Crazy as it sounds, I think it’s having to decide what I want to have once my export is complete. I don’t have to do that in MSWord because — like Henry Ford and his Model T — Word gives me one option: a series of 8” x 11” pages printed top to bottom that match what I see on my screen. TBX is no Model T: the available options are seemingly, overwhelmingly limitless and choosing is hard.
My trick for getting past this block is to step away from my computer, to grab a pencil and paper, and to sketch out what I want. Once I know that, I’ve found that making TBX give it to me is pretty easy. And if I change my mind and want to tweak something? That’s usually easy too.
For the comment sheets I was exporting from my rubric, I wanted various note texts and attribute values to be collected and presented in a sensible way. I thought about this in terms of the rubric hierarchy and came up with a structure shown here.
In this image, the yellow box would be summary information, all of which I had stored in the root note of each instance of the rubric. The green boxes correspond to information stored in various attributes of the criteria notes; the blue boxes are my comments, stored as note text in the descriptor I checked while grading. To create this output I’ll use three templates all of which will be based on the basic HTML template provided through the FILE menu.
Before getting started with the templates, I should also mention that my pencil drawing of the comment sheet indicates where in my TBX notes the information I want to export is located. To give a sense of what that means, I’ve taken screenshot of my sample comment sheet and used colored boxes and labels to do the same thing here.
I import the html templates that comes with TBX and use them to create my starting templates by copy/pasting them as I need to. By the end of this process, each note in the rubric needs to have the appropriate template assigned to it, either directly or by the export code. To assign them directly, you can use either the HTML tab of the inspector (cmd-1 then the tab marked”< >”) or the HTML selector tab above the key attributes in the text pane. (If the selector tabs aren’t visible, you can turn them on with “WINDOW–>SHOW TEXT PANE SELECTOR.”)
My first template is assigned to the root note. It collects and arranges information from this using three basic export codes. These are:
^title^ ^value($RubricEssayGrade)^ ^text^
^title^ and ^text^ are easy: the first prints the $Name of the note (which my rubric prototypes have already set to the $ExportFileName) and the second prints anything I’ve written in the $Text attribute (which is what is displayed in the text pane). These two codes are special: they pull the information in $Name and $Text without requiring the attributes to be named. For all other attributes, you use ^value()^, placing the attribute name in the parenthesis. In my template, the ^value()^ code will insert the student’s grade for the essay.
If these three terms were simply listed in my template, then the export would be an unformatted list with no context and would look sloppy. To fix this, I add some stock text — a “/100” after the grade and a generic introduction to the criteria comments — and format everything using html tags. My understanding is that most (all?) html tags will be recognized during export, but I only know a few. So I can’t say for sure. Text added to the template will be added to the output as typed. No codes necessary.
Finally, I want the export to include more than the root note of my rubric. So I need to indicate that my criteria notes should be exported as well. These criteria are the children of the root, so I can use the command:
That one command is enough to tell Tinderbox to include each of the children in the export. And what information about the children will it include? Whatever the child’s export template says should be included. In my template, I assign a template for the children’s export in the export code by adding a parenthesis to the ^children^ command. But if you’ve assigned the correct template to the criteria using the inspector or the HTML selector tab that’s not necessary.
This template will generate the text found in the red, the blue and the first two green boxes in my image above and, assembled, looks like this:
This template controls the export of the criteria notes. It uses the same export codes as the previous template, and uses similar html tags. The stock text is different and integrates an attribute value in a more interesting way, the path for the template used to treat the criteria’s children has also been updated, but otherwise, it works in exactly the same way.
This template will generate the text found in the pink, the orange, the brown and the last green boxes, and, assembled, looks like this:.
The final template, which controls the export of descriptor comments is a good example of the daunting/easy paradox of export. On the one hand this template needs to do only one thing: export the descriptor’s note text. To do this requires nothing more than the single export code ^text^. Easy-peasy. (I spice things up by adding the stock text “Your essay: ” before the comments text because I want things to look classy.)
But there’s a hitch: I only want to export the text of the descriptor note I checked when grading. ^text^ on its own will include all the descriptor comments whether I checked them or not. I don’t know how to do that. So it’s off to the TbRef and the user forums because there’s no way to intuit the answer. I know I need an export code that does the same thing as the action code I used when doing calculations, and I have to look or ask until I find it. It doesn’t take long, but if feels harder — and is more daunting — than selecting “Print.” Once I have the command I need — ^if($Checked==true)^ — I add it and everything works.
The resulting template generates the olive box above, and although it has felt like the hardest to make, it is only two lines long and pulls information from only one attribute. So it is actually the simplest and the shortest of the three.
In practice, when I’m done grading, I move all the rubrics from out of the student containers and into a new container that, when I export, will be a folder with all of the correctly named comment sheets inside. I batch convert these to pdfs and upload them to my college’s course management system and students can consult them from there.
The one hitch I see in this output is that the default text sizes for the text is large when printed, but I haven’t decided if I want to do anything about that. If I decide I do, I think that all that’s required is a simple html command in the root template. But that said, I’m pretty sure my students reading their comments on a screen rather than on paper which means there’s probably no problem.