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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9 Responses to About online grading

  1. Tom says:

    I now am keeping a simple Word document with commonly used comments for each assignment. It’s not as elegant as a macro, but it saves time.

    Get a second monitor or a widescreen monitor so that you can have the rubric/response open next to the paper to be graded.

    Works is a real pain; encourage students to get OpenOffice 3.01 http://www.openoffice.org which can save as Office 2003 or 2007 and provides spreadsheet and powerpoint functionality as well. It will also open a variety of ancient formats like WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3.

  2. squawky says:

    I second the “strict on file formats” approach – I find that I can open most documents with Pages (even the dreaded .docx, before I upgraded to Office 2008)… but have run across a few that just would not open. One student submitted a paper using what appeared to be WordPerfect (an old version, even) that seemed to open fine, but upon close inspection was missing the last half page of text.

    My rules boil down to “.doc, .txt, or.pdf” – that way I know I can open them, and that the student can send them without issue (Pages/Keynote documents aren’t really documents – they’re ‘packages’ – but non-Mac computers see them as folders… very hard to attach to an email).

    My other caveat to students is always to make sure they receive some kind of notification that I’ve received their assignment. Works great if we use Blackboard for assignments, but for the “email it to me” assignments this is critical… too many assignments end up in spam folders, or arrive with missing attachments.

    As for the text expander – I really wish I had one in pen format… I get tired of writing the same comments over and over. But a good point – should really consider investing in an electronic version.

  3. undine says:

    First of all, thanks for this post; I like seeing how other people comment on papers using computers.

    The file formats thing is important, as you and squawky say. Students have to send me some flavor of Word or .rtf, since Word 2003 for Windows can’t open a .pdf or insert comments in it. I also tell them that I will always send them a confirmation message when they email me their papers; no email means I didn’t get the paper.

    I just discovered autotext (http://notofgeneralinterest.blogspot.com/search?q=autotext) last year, which has shaved a lot of time from the paper-commenting process. Since you can copy and paste into autotext, I spent about an hour one day putting in all the explanations I already had written up for comma splices, etc., and can now insert them with a keystroke. The beneficial part is that I can now spend more time on substantive comments rather than typing explanations of errors. (Also, I try not to scare them by inserting an explanation for everything each time.)

  4. Katy says:

    Thanks for this Jason – it’s reassuring to know that I’m not alone in finding online grading more time consuming. I love the recommendation to use 2 monitors – that certainly would help. And I’ll probably take your advice on the rubric – I have one with complicated numbers now and I end up trying to figure it backwards… I think in theory a program like “Comment” (which we have access to through the classroom software at GT) would work well, but it takes an initial time investment to get it all figured out. It does feature a comment library though, kind of like the technique undine was suggesting. Maybe next semester…

  5. undine says:

    Just out of curiosity–how do you use the two monitors? Do you put a paper up on one and a rubric on the other? I’ve been thinking about your post and was not sure how this worked to create more efficiency. (As you can probably tell, I’ve never worked with 2 monitors.)

  6. Jason says:

    Hi, undine . . .

    Yes, that’s right: A paper on one monitor, and rubric on the other, both displayed at ~150-200%. It’s very nice.

    When I’m not grading, it’s also helpful because I can have a document up fullscreen on one monitor, and anything else (iTunes, e-mail, Twitter) on the other.

  7. undine says:

    Thanks! I have a wide monitor now at home (just one), but I’ve noticed that even that makes a huge difference because I can see more at once.

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