Grading with my voice

Cross-posted on my blog:

A few people have asked me for some more detail about how I use screencasting to grade papers so I thought I’d post this.

As a physics professor I don’t grade nearly as many writing assignments as my colleagues in other disciplines but I do take seriously my job to help all my students improve their writing.  When I first started grading such papers I would write comments on each draft and provides a grade via some sort of rubric.  The rubrics started really as requirements that could be met in various ways and have evolved to fully fleshed out rubrics with careful descriptions of what it takes to get a check mark in columns like “meets basic expectations”.

I quickly realized that giving the students the type of feedback I really thought they could use took a lot of time and effort, and I found that meeting with the students about their writing was one of the best ways to do this.  However, those appointments are hard to schedule, especially in a semester like I have now where all three of my lecture courses have heavy writing requirements (my First Year Seminar is writing intensive, my junior-level advanced lab course has writing a grant as 80% of the points, and my fully online course for teachers has a lesson plan as a major assignment).

I realized that the screencasting I was doing for my lectures could also be used to simulate the office experience with students.  I use my pen tablet mouse to mark up the documents digitally (using either Jarnal or Adobe Acrobat) and I use Jing to record my voice while explaining my concerns with the paper.  Here’s an example. In that example you can see how I mix in discussion of content, style, and how it meets the expectations.  You’ll also see that the 5 minute limit that Jing holds me too wasn’t enough (so I just did a second one).  Typically I get my comments done in under the five minute limit (though the reading of a typical paper still takes me something like 20 minutes).

I ride the bus a lot and I like to use that time to grade.  What I’ve taken to doing is marking up the papers in regular ink with little notations to myself about what to say.  When I’m back in my office I then open the digital document, grab my pen tablet, and begin.  I transfer the marks that are necessary all the while holding a pseudo conversation with the student.

I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback about this from my students.  They really like having the screencast at their disposal for pausing and rewinding.  One student told me that he opens his paper on his computer before playing the screencast and he makes changes immediately, while pausing the playback.  Others have said that they really feel they understand what I’m looking for after watching.  There’s also been an interesting study on the preferences of students for the type of feedback they’d like, comparing regular comments, track-changes in Word, track changes with audio, and what I do.   The upshot is that my way was strongly preferred in their survey.

I’d love to hear how others use a similar system.  Feel free to drop me a line here in the comments or on twitter @arundquist.


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