Posts Tagged ‘College Grading’

Six months after obtaining an iPad Air 2 with the hopes of digitizing the majority of my workload, I have completed my first semester of nearly all-digital grading. Students still took their exams the old-fashioned way, but I graded every essay, assignment, and final project digitally. Although there were times that I wanted to go back to grading with pen on paper, I think that the benefits generally outweighed the costs.

The Process

I’ve dabbled in electronic assignment submission in the past, but this semester I required students to submit all of their assignments electronically to my institution’s course management program (similar to Blackboard, Moodle, etc.). They were instructed to submit their work in PDF format and most did, but after downloading the assignments I had to spend a few minutes converting the assignments that were submitted in other formats. These few minutes were just the first of the extra time that working electronically added to the grading process.

After ensuring that everything was in the correct format, I uploaded the files to Dropbox, then imported them into Goodnotes 4 on my iPad for grading. Grading itself also took longer because of the need to zoom in for writing legible comments with a stylus. At the end of each assignment I typically used the iPad’s on-screen keyboard to type some longer comments, the speed of which would have been greatly increased with the purchase of a Bluetooth keyboard. After grading, I exported the files back to Dropbox, transferred them to my computer, opened each file to record the grade, and uploaded them back to the course management program so that students could receive my feedback. I know that some course management programs allow electronic grading on PDFs from within their interface, so the ability to do that would help streamline the process.

The Negatives

The biggest drawback was the added time necessary both before, during, and after grading. It was during grading for my largest classes that I often considered just printing the students’ papers and grading them by hand. Aside from the added time commitment, though, I also found that electronic grading interrupted my normal process of handing work back. In the past I have always given assignments back at the end of class, prefaced with an overview of what generally went well and what needed work. Electronic grading prevented me from returning things at the end of class (the course management system provided no option to hold feedback for release at a particular time) and divorced the receipt of my feedback from my contextualizing overview. It also led to at least one class period where students were noticeably disengaged after receiving relatively low grades on an assignment shortly before class started. In the future I’ll probably switch to providing context at the end of class and uploading student assignments immediately afterward.

The Positives

Saving paper was an obvious motivation for changing to digital grading, but it was not the only benefit that I noticed. During grading, the ability to copy and paste some of my end-of-assignment comments allowed me to write a bit more than I might have otherwise (a Bluetooth keyboard will hopefully make this even better). The larger benefit for me, though, and what ultimately made this process worthwhile, was the ability to have a copy of each student’s work with my feedback even after I had given assignments back. If one assignment built on another, for example, I could look back at the student’s previous work to see if they had followed my suggestions. The ability to pull up a student’s previous assignments during office hours was also helpful. Finally, I could also see whether a student’s ability to cite things properly progressed over the course of the semester (unfortunately, the answer was usually “no”).

Another major positive was that students liked it. My comments were not really any less legible than they would have been otherwise and students did not have to worry about misplacing their assignments for future reference since they were always available on the course management page. Whether students saved the files with my feedback for future reference is still undetermined. One worry that I had is that students would not read my feedback if I did not physically hand them an assignment, since they could see their grade online without opening the file with my comments. There is obviously a question of whether students read my feedback when I do physically hand them an assignment, but at least the likelihood seems higher.

Despite the added time and other drawbacks, I consider this semester’s trial run a success. Over the summer I hope to get a Bluetooth keyboard to make typing a little more efficient, and I should probably look into ways to streamline my overall process, but I plan to continue my electronic grading in the future. Maybe with penalties for assignments that are submitted in the wrong format…

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Other than grading, I associate the end of the semester with complaining, mostly about grading, but also about students and their complaints. The other day I was talking to a colleague who remarked that a student had recently asked why he didn’t get an A when his paper had all of the required parts. I noted that I include statements at the end of my syllabi about what each grade means in an attempt to inform students that simply meeting the requirements will not earn them an A. Of course, the fact that this statement is made of words and placed at the end of the syllabus probably means that few students are aware of it. During our discussion I started contemplating more effective ways of delivering this message. One way goes something like this:

Simply having all of the required parts of an assignment will not earn you an A. Think of the parts of a paper like the parts of a car. Just because you have all of the parts doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to drive anywhere, as this example shows:

You're not driving anywhere in this

You’re not driving anywhere in this

Simply having all of the parts might earn you a C. I hope that you’re not okay with a C. You can do better than that! Like writing a good paper, assembling a car takes a lot of work. Luckily for you, writing a good paper is actually much easier for most people than assembling a car. Of course, having all of the parts and connecting them is also not necessarily enough for an A, as this example shows:

2 - Prius Assembled

That’s good, but I still think you can do better!

Having all of the parts and assembling them in a way that resembles a paper might earn you a B. There are some obvious flaws here! There are grammatical errors all over the doors of this car! How, then, can you earn an A? An A paper should be more like this:

3 - Prius Complete

I bet Toyota proofread this before turning it in!

An A paper not only has all of the parts assembled in a way that resembles a finished product, it reflects the effort that went into creating it. An A paper does not have any glaring flaws (like, you know, a charred interior) and its appearance reveals that it has been well-maintained. It is clean and polished and hopefully even original. An A paper is not the result of somebody starting to write with the first sentence, stopping when he or she has fulfilled the requirements, and submitting the paper without proofreading. An A paper takes work. When you earn it, I will be happy to give you an A.

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After a brief lull as the eye of the storm passed overhead, grading continued early this week. Now that the storm is passing it can be confirmed that a record amount of grading has taken place in the past week. This storm included:

  • 80 papers from three courses
  • 60 traditional exams from two courses
  • 20 take-home exams from one course
  • 30 research proposals from one course

The total? 190 assignments/exams graded in 14 days. While the weather can be unpredictable, I hope to never find myself in this sort of storm again!

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