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Improve Feedback to Students and Decrease Time Spent Grading

To stay on top of grading many faculty and graduate instructors have probably carried exams or homework back and forth between home, campus, and coffee shops. And this is just the beginning of the logistical challenges of grading. Working with other graders means that a common meeting time needs to be found. Once everyone is together and settled, divvying up question types between different people means that people are flipping back and forth on every exam, passing exams back and forth, and waiting for other exams to become available. Ensuring consistency amongst graders and penning helpful feedback can be difficult. Finally, returning grades to students quickly and dealing with requests for re-grades can be a struggle.

Faculty in Weinberg College have been tackling these problems by using collaborative online grading software. Thanks to the support of the departments of Economics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Psychology, and the Weinberg College Dean’s office, all faculty and graduate instructors of Weinberg College now have access for the 2018-2019 academic year to Crowdmark, an online collaborative grading software.

Scott Ogawa, Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Economics Department, uses online grading software in all his courses and sees the time savings as one of the main advantages to using this kind of software. “Number one advantage in terms of saving time is that you grade question 2B, then 2B immediately again, zero time spent flipping through papers, looking for things, ” says Ogawa. “It turns out that over half the time you spend grading is organization: this [collaborative grading software] takes care of all this.”

In the Mathematics Department, Assistant Professor of Instruction Aaron Peterson has found that Crowdmark has improved the feedback he and fellow instructors give to students. “Besides the administrative gains, for exams when you’re scoring short answer questions, you often want to make very nice comments on papers, so if you had a pen, you’d be writing this multi-sentence thing and it takes time to add that comment,” says Peterson. “But now you can take your time, write a very nice comment with special codes that render as scientific equations in line.” That comment can then be inserted again when needed and shared with other graders.

 screenshot of homework with typed comments

 View of the annotation function in Crowdmark.

How It Works

After uploading a sample of an exam to Crowdmark and inputting the number of students taking the exam, a PDF is generated that contains every copy of the exam, each with a unique QR code. Instructors print that document and distribute it to students. After students have taken the exam and the paper copies are scanned into Crowdmark, you can easily divide and assign different parts of the exam to different graders. For homework, students can upload a picture or other document to be evaluated. To see more on how to grade using Crowdmark, see the following documents.

How to Set Up an Assessment

Student Submission

Grading Interface

Student Results

Save Time

Crowdmark has allowed faculty to fine-tune their grading process. As mentioned previously, Crowdmark allows you to grade all of the student responses to any specific question without shuffling through papers. Peterson has also noticed that when he and his fellow instructors are grading, Crowdmark allows them to shift resources depending on the difficulty of the question. Peterson says, “while grading, if one question turns out to be faster to grade you can re-assign people to other questions to move the grading process along faster. In real-time I can say ‘ok, when this problem finishes, I’m going to send this many people over to this other problem’.” Using an online grading software can give you insights into the grading process that weren’t previously possible.

Time-savings also appear after exams are returned. Peterson noticed “If a student emails you with a question about your exam, you can go online and look at it, you don’t need them to schlep to your office with the exam to ask you a question.” The student’s online work becomes a shared resource between instructors and faculty, with easy access for each without needing to reference a hard copy.

Improved Feedback to Students

Both Ogawa and Peterson remarked on the ease and speed of distributing back grades and feedback to students through online grading software. “Grades are returned to students immediately, whether or not they see that as an advantage,” says Peterson. As mentioned previously, because of the ability to share comments between graders, when a grader notices patterns of mistakes in student work they can create detailed and helpful comments for all graders to insert.

Even beyond an individual exam or course, the scanned copies of student work can be a valuable resources for a department. Peterson utilizes Crowdmark while advising, looking at individual exams and homework to help students figure out if they need to re-take courses or work on different study or time management skills based on their recorded performance.

Oversight of Newer Instructors

Online grading software can speed up grading, but that doesn’t come at the expense of quality feedback and oversight. During the grading process, you can check in real time to see if your graders are using the rubric and providing adequate feedback, which is especially helpful for developing the skills of first-time teaching assistants. Crowdmark can help you ensure consistency amongst graders and advise teaching assistants on their grading approach.

Academic integrity

Both Ogawa and Peterson remarked on how online grading software removes doubt surrounding re-grades of submitted work. Scans of homework and exams are uploaded so the students’ work at the time the evaluation was turned in is preserved. Any student requests for a re-grade based on a grading mistake are easily resolved by looking at the original scan. Ogawa identified this as a great advantage to using an online grading software, saying “once you scan, there’s no bogus re-grades.”

Grading is also done blind to student identities, reducing implicit and explicit bias during evaluation. Through blind grading and the lack of bonus re-grades, online grading software can assist in improving academic integrity.

Tips For New Users

Getting to know a new software platform and integrating it into your courses and grading structure can be hard to add to an already busy teaching schedule. Nonetheless, faculty who use online grading software in Weinberg College feel that the effort and time is amply rewarded. Those that have adopted Crowdmark have some advice - “Don’t reinvent the wheel,” says Peterson. “Contact someone who’s using Crowdmark. There are some quirks, but they are problems that people have solved.”

Integrating Crowdmark into a course can have a deep impact on the evaluation process for both faculty and students. Because of the administrative and grading time savings, it is possible to move away from building evaluations that are simply quick to grade. Creating and re-using comments during grading can help instructors recognize patterns of where students are misunderstanding course materials. Because of the oversight into the grading process, it is possible to have different kinds of conversations with teaching assistants about their progress as teachers-in-training. For these reasons and more, faculty in Weinberg College are finding online grading software to be a powerful instructional tool.

Crowdmark Access

Instructors can access Crowdmark with Canvas integration using this link:
https://app.crowdmark.com/sign-in/northwestern

Advice on using Crowdmark with Canvas is available in Crowdmark’s online knowledge base. The Crowdmark team is available to answer any support questions via email support@crowdmark.com.

Contact wits@northwestern.edu to get in touch with fellow faculty members who are using Crowdmark.

Weinberg College IT continually evaluates this space for new platforms to support instruction in the College. If you have other suggestions for how technology can assist with your teaching, let us know!

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