I have a confession to make. I was wrong. You see, I once thought that teaching was lecturing, and I thought that because that is how my graduate mentors taught me to teach.
But I was wrong. Studies have shown that lecturing has little to do with teaching. A University of Maryland study found that right after a physics lecture, almost none of the students could answer the question: “What was the lecture you just heard about?” Another physics professor simply asked students about the material that he had presented only 15 minutes earlier, and he found that only ten percent showed any sign of remembering it (Freedman, 2012).
One of the big challenges of teaching an online course is managing workload while providing the support and feedback that is essential to student success. A good way to become more efficient is to build an archive of grading comments to reduce the time it takes to provide feedback on assignments. By creating an archive, an instructor could insert a comment such as the following with a single keystroke:
I mostly teach basic technical writing, and I face the same problem that confronts many of us who teach writing. It’s hard enough getting students to do the assignments, and almost impossible to get them to do a first draft. But writing takes practice, and if you require students to practice, that leads to an inevitable mountain of papers to grade. At my college, the trend is toward bigger classes and fewer course hours in English. This makes giving students the chance to practice all the more important, and providing the necessary feedback all the more challenging. I’d like to share a couple of solutions I’ve devised that help me deal with both these problems.
Turnitin, the leader in originality checking and online grading, announced the results of a new study analyzing instructor feedback on 2,093,396 student papers submitted through GradeMark, the Turnitin online grading tool. The study found that while instructors have accepted online grading as mainstream, they are finding the same types of grammatical and compositional errors across secondary and postsecondary grade levels.
I hope you won’t stop reading once you find out the idea being proposed here involves automating the feedback provided students on papers, projects, and presentations. If you were to look at a graded set of papers and make a list of the comments offered as feedback, how many of those comments have you written more than once? Is the answer many? If so, you should read on.
Do you sometimes (maybe regularly) get papers from students filled with spelling, punctuation, proofreading, and other more serious grammatical problems? Yours is not an English class and you have other content to teach, making it difficult to address these writing problems. And yet leaving them unaddressed puts students in jeopardy. They may not believe us, but the fact is we still live in a culture that “sorts out” people based on their use of language and a student who can’t put together an error-free résumé or cover letter isn’t likely to get many interviews or good jobs.
When I began teaching, I encountered many students who didn’t know things. I had to grade papers that were filled with long, complicated narrations, written by students who clearly didn’t have a clue what they were writing about. Students continue to take this strategy, fervently hoping that the grader won’t recognize their ignorance, or will award at least a few partial credit points. How I longed for a simple “I don’t know” as an answer.
When graded papers get a quick glance before being shoved into a backpack or deposited into the trash can on the way out of class, it’s often hard for teachers to summon the motivation to write lots of comments on papers. That’s why I was pleased to find evidence in two studies that students do value written comments on their work.
As a very young teacher, I remember pulling all-nighters to get my students’ essays back within the one-week limit I set for myself. Even in those days this “cram grading” was miserable and exhausting; but now at 50—especially with the added responsibilities of husband, father, and homeowner—this style of grading papers is all but impossible.
Given student motivation to get grades and the prevalence of cheating, most faculty would never seriously consider letting students grade their own work. However, self-grading, especially of homework, does accrue some significant benefits. It can move students away from doing homework for points to making them more aware of why and how doing problems helps them learn. If students grade their own work, they see exactly where they are making mistakes. And they obtain that feedback far sooner than if the instructor collects the homework, grades it, and then returns it some days later.