Gina Brandolino, an instructor in the Sweetland Center for Writing and the English Language and Literature department, wanted to move from grading physical papers to using online tools but she wanted to preserve her ability to hand write comments as opposed to typing inline comments. She won an LSA-ISS Teaching Transformed grant that enabled her to spend a summer adapting her work flow and materials to utilize the new technologies.

Gina’s original process was fairly typical.  Students could turn in a paper copy of an assignment in class or submit an electronic version via DropBox. She would print any electronic submissions, mark the physical papers up with comments and then distribute the graded papers in class. She now completes the process entirely online, using Canvas Assignments and Gradebook, as well as an application for her Surface Pro tablet that enables her to write comments with a stylus. Students are notified that their submissions are graded and can view the feedback in Canvas whenever they choose.

Gina found the Assignments feature in Canvas fairly intuitive. She simply copied the assignment instructions from her existing files into the text editor, chose a Submission File Type of Online, an Online Entry Option of File Upload, and used the Restrict Upload File Types field to indicate she only wanted PDF files as submissions. The Due Date feature seemed a little redundant, since that information was included in her syllabus. However, she found that Assignment due dates can be helpful later when she worked in the Gradebook and could easily see the students who had submitted their work late.

The challenges of adapting to the new process included simply getting familiar with the new tools, as she describes herself as “not technology savvy.” She has used many pedagogical tools but getting used to them always takes a little time. “The grant gave me the time I needed to focus and experiment.” Another significant challenge remains unresolved and that is the fact that Canvas does not support stylus use as well as she had hoped. She ended up downloading the assignments and grading them on her Surface Pro with a tool called DrawBoard. Finally, Canvas rubrics do not accommodate the “holistic” style of rubric she uses, which expresses feedback in terms of “areas of competency” rather than points. Her workaround for this issue is to attach the completed rubric to a student’s submission.

When asked about the benefits she sees for students, she pointed out that, in her new process, students are able to review feedback on an essay in private, as opposed to in class with peers. Additionally, all submissions are stored in one place and easily available for portfolios or other professional purposes. These materials can also be helpful in office hours and other discussions with students about their progress.

In terms of benefits to an instructor, her first response was “Fewer germs from handling all those papers!” Other advantages include using less paper, which makes the process greener, and easy access to grading samples for annual performance reviews and other professional needs. Gina has also noticed that she can use the class time previously spent handing back papers for other activities. Finally, several features of the Canvas GradeBook provide visual information that makes grading a particularly large number of essays over several days easier. These features include pink shading that indicates a submission was late, the SpeedGrader feature that indicates which student submissions have been graded, and the ability to move quickly from one student’s work to the next.

For more information about online grading, contact our office to speak with one of our consultants.