May 3rd, 2012

The Online Educator’s Complete Guide to Grading Assignments, Part 2


On Tuesday, I provided general suggestions on course-based grading expectations practices. Here I share some ideas for grading specific assignments.

Use a bank of comments that are precise, detailed, and clear. The smart online educator is the one who has a bank of comments from which he/she can draw on to give students feedback on any number of items in the course. But there are two important items here that will make these precast comments most effective: 1) Have comments point out not only when something is wrong but also why it is wrong and how to get it right. In this manner, each comment becomes a mini teacher’s aide in the assignment. 2) Adjust (personalize) any comment as is necessary when your comment as written does not exactly match the problem you see in the student’s assignment. This way each comment is a perfect fit for the error, allowing the student to learn more fully.

Do not point out each error a student makes. While students look to you for feedback that will help them improve, this is college, and thus more responsibility falls on the student than in a high school course. Therefore, unless you come across an error in an assignment that you believe is grievous, unusual, or complex enough that a previous comment should be posted again, only point out each new problem once. The following can help encourage students to use their own efforts to hunt out other similar problems that may occur in their assignment: 1) In your overall comment—at the end of the assignment—write something like this: “NOTE: To help you when additional errors have occurred but I have not noted them, I have inserted a + sign at the end of a comment if that error occurs more than once in your essay.” [b] Be sure to insert the + sign at the end of any error if that error has popped up more than once.

No matter the course, be sure you indicate any proofreading errors. Proofreading has nothing to do with knowing how to write. Rather, errors are an indication that the student has rushed through the assignment. This is a habit that must be nipped immediately, as it can prove to be disastrous in many ways outside of school: in a resume, contract proposal, executive summary, report, etc. I take off major points for proofreading errors, and I include in poor proofreading not incorporating any of my draft comments into a final copy of the assignment.

Always point out at least a few positives in various portions of the student’s assignment and in the overall comment. No one likes to read negative after negative after negative. It can be very discouraging. So let the student know a few instances where he or she has gotten it right—or nearly right. This helps take the sting out of an assignment that is loaded with errors, and can serve as a motivator that tells the student he/she does understand and is going in the right direction at times. And carry this through in the overall comment, at the end of the assignment: Be motivational, tell the student to build on your comments, give one major plus comment, and always let the student know you are available for any questions he/she might have.

Errol Craig Sull has been teaching online courses for 17 years and has a national reputation in the subject, and in writing about and conducting workshops on distance learning. He is currently putting the finishing touches on two online-teaching books.

Excerpted from Teaching Online with Errol: The Online Educator’s Complete Guide to Grading Assignments. Online Classroom (April 2011): 6,8.

3 comments on “The Online Educator’s Complete Guide to Grading Assignments, Part 2

  1. Hello Eric:

    Thank you for providing a thoughtful perspective of grading.

    I would like to also share my perspective as an online instructor. I have a bank of comments available; however, I use these more for my discussion board posts than my feedback. I want my feedback to be individually tailored to each student. As to pointing out mistakes, I use the insert comment feature in Word so that I can provide interactive feedback, observations, comments, and perspectives as I’m reading through the paper, along with questions. This lets students know that I am engaged in their paper and providing meaningful feedback. As to pointing out positives, I use the sandwich approach to feedback – start out with something positive, address an area of development, and then end on a positive note.

    Dr. J

  2. Eric and Dr. J,

    Thank you both for sharing. I've only been teaching online classes for the last four years, but seemed to have learned that Dr. J's approach yields the more effective results and returns the greater number of positive comments from the course during end of course reviews. Students truly appreciate the personalization of both MSWord comments in their papers and personalized responses on the discussion board. As a Behavior Type analyst I too am a fan of the sandwich approach, but I also use the technique, "If you were to resubmit, what constructive changes would you make?" so as to engage some student self-reflection on the learning process.

    I have a mix of what you two espouse. I personally comment/mentor each student on the boards and provide learning points for FAS (for all students) by inserting FAS in the subject line. At the end of the week I post a scripted generalized comment (from a scripted set of comments) but tailor them to each unique class.

    Thanks guys!


  3. I have completed 13 focus group interviews (with students) in three year period on the value of an interactive online teaching portfolio a in a final year undergraduate medical program. Portfolio assesment contributes 30% to summative mark. Students and faculty have access to all portfolios.

    Three new themes emerged from the reasearch on feedback:

    Trust and respect; Continuity of interaction; Feedback on feedback

    * Some students know the models of feedback and expect positive and negative feedback. The value attached to the feedback depends on various factors of which the following three are important:

    Do I trust this feedback both positive or negative – is it part of a model or is it constructive and adding to my learning experience?
    What does this tutor know about me – was this a once off interaction which resulted in this negative feedback? Students tend to reflect on feedback and sometimes even discuss this with peers and confidants.
    Was there opportunity to discuss or give feedback on feedback? Is there an opportunity to improve and provide evidence of growth, development or improvement?

    College of Medicine and Health Sciences
    University United Arab Emirates

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