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Notes System: Initial Design

with 4 comments

At the code sprint, we tossed around some ideas for the “Messages between TAs and instructors” feature that Karen asked for. Today, I’ve been brainstorming what I think this feature should look like, functionally.

Feature goal

To allow small pieces of information to be left on various aspects of the course, pertaining to something specific, to alert others to the problems (or good things!), with a timestamp. These could potentially pertain to an assignment, a student, or a grouping, or we could limit these to just one of these types.

Example uses

If students are suspected to be cheating, then the grader could “flag” the assignment for the instructor by leaving a note. Since other graders can also see it, then they can see that this student was previously flagged for cheating. If the student is sick and gets an exemption on part of the assignment, then a note could be placed on the affected assignment for the grader to take that into account during marking.

Can anyone think of other potential uses of this feature?

Where to create these?

Now that we have some idea of how this could be used in a real course – it’s always key to keep the users in mind – we need to think about where in the work flow we would want to create these pieces of information.

While marking an assignment, we should be able to make notes. These would be noted against the grouping, since this encompasses assignments where the students work alone, as well as assignments where the students work together and keeps in mind the idea that one student having a problem can affect all students in the grouping. It also allows us to have notes go against a single object, since a grouping represents an assignment as well as the students working on it.

We should also be able to make a comment about a particular student in general or about a a particular student on an assignment, not from the marking view. Should we also be able to comment about an assignment? This could be incorporated into the viewing of the comments described below.


What about replies to a comment? Should we incorporate these into our feature? I think that we shouldn’t at this time, since the initial idea is for more one-off ideas, but I think that the model should be designed in a flexible enough way such that we can have multiple notes against the same object, which would allow for multiple notes to be left against an object and thus “replies” of a sort without complicating the model too much.

Where to view these?

I propose adding a new tab in the menu for Admins and Graders, with its text being the name we decide upon for this feature. In here, we can display all of the messages (paged in case there are a lot of them?) and have a link to add new ones as well. Would distinguishing the new comments made since last login from the previous ones be useful? You should be able to sort the view. You should also be able to filter it by assignment or by student ID (which would obviously return all comments left against that student, as well as comments left against any groupings it is a member of).


At the code sprint meeting, someone suggested modifying the annotations model for these notes, but that idea was declined since we don’t want to relate these to the code. The conclusion was that we will need a new model to represent these ideas.

The pieces of information that we need to store are: the user who wrote the note, the timestamp from when it was written, the object ID that it is against, the type of object it is against (grouping, student, assignment, etc.), and the actual text of the note itself.


We need to consider how we’re going to name this feature. Several initial possibilities come to mind: Messages, Notes, and Comments. (I actually found all three of these used interchangeably in my notes from the Sunday code sprint meeting!)

  • I don’t like the term “Messages” because it implies that they are sent from one person to another, which these won’t be – they’ll be available for viewing by all instructors AND graders. I do, however, like its implication that these are being shared with other people.
  • The term “Comments” is too close to the ideas of commenting code and the overall comments on an assignment that are shared with the students. I think that a new term is in order to ensure that information is not left in this field that the students shouldn’t see.
  • My favourite is definitely the term “Notes” because it implies that these are small pieces of information, pertaining to something specific. It doesn’t carry the connotation that it is just between specific individuals, so it is much more fitting than “Messages”.

I am definitely open to suggestions on other names or further comments on the names that I have suggested.

Anything else?

Are there any other pieces related to this feature that I haven’t outlined? I look forward to hearing your ideas about the upcoming notes feature in MarkUs!

Written by Tara Clark

October 17th, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Notes System: Initial Design'

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  1. Like you said, “Notes” seems like the best name.


    22 Oct 09 at 5:10 pm

  2. […] Posted in Meetings, Status Reports « Notes System: Initial Design […]

  3. I like the term “Notes” as well. It seems to best describe this new feature.

    Farah Juma

    23 Oct 09 at 10:26 am

  4. Where to create notes?
    I’d like to focus on notes for a grouping.
    I like the idea of being able to make notes on a student in general, but it isn’t a high priority.

    I don’t think we need a special structure for replies, as you suggest, but we do need multiple notes in an object.

    I like your proposal for an aggregate view, and being able to add notes to that view solves some of the problem of more general notes.

    At this point, I don’t think it is necessary to distinguish notes made since the last login. The filtering sounds great (although perhaps a secondary priority).

    Notes is my favourite too.

    I can’t quite see the mechanism for creating a new note. I’d like to make it easy to add a note to a submission, without switching away from the grader view.

    Nice document. You have me thinking about the feature in a different way which is quite useful!

    Karen Reid

    23 Oct 09 at 10:58 am

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