About online grading

Katy asked for a post about grading with the computer, and I always try to honor requests, so here goes:

Online grading doesn’t save me any time, although that’s probably because I do it badly.  The main benefits I get from grading this way are two: Students can read my comments, and I get sick less frequently during the semester.

Some crucial points:

  • I take files in just about all formats.  This is probably a mistake, for two reasons: First, as far as I can tell, no one application opens all file types, and so I’m always switching  apps.  Second, I have to adapt my grading based on the file type.  For example, between 10-20% of the papers in any section arrive in Microsoft Works format.  With documents in Word (or Pages, or Open Office, etc.), I can grade using the “Track Changes” functionality.  But not with Works.  That makes things slower.  It’s my understanding that other faculty specify a file format.
  • I both use a rubric and offer copious marginal comments.  This only gets worse when I get behind, because then I feel as if I have to justify taking so long by offering super-detailed marginal commentary.  This is stupid.
  • I don’t have any macros, templates, or text expanders set up to automate stuff I type all the time.  This is stupid.
  • I used to have a somewhat complicated rubric that depended on math. This turned out to be counterproductive, because, instead of grading faster, I spent more time trying to game the rubric so it matched my judgment of what the paper should get.  But I liked the categories and descriptions, so I’ve kept the rubric as a checkbox, and just assign the grade the paper should get.
  • All told, it probably takes me about 30 minutes a paper for short ones, and as much as an hour for longer ones.

So, to recap.  If you would do online grading successfully, do it as differently from me as possible:

  • Be strict about file formats.  Even naming conventions end up making a difference–I’m *always* spending a few minutes going through and changing all the files named “Paper1.doc” to something more helpful.
  • I’d use a rubric, or something comparable, but if you do, minimize interlineal comments.
  • Help your word processor help you: Figure out what comments you write over and over again, and set up a macro of some sort to insert that text automagically.

Here’s an annotated list of links with more information about various approaches. If anyone has shortcuts or tips, I’d be glad to hear them!

Update the next morning: I woke up with the same thought Tom had (in comments): monitors matter.  I’m a *lot* more efficient on campus, with my dual 24″ monitors, than at home, on my MacBook.

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