Monday, December 6, 2010

Grading gadgets

There are many words to describe this time of year: hectic, frantic, overwhelming, and the simplistic but appropriate word: busy. Final exam time can bring out the best and worst in our students and in ourselves. As we find our own work mounting along with students we haven't seen in weeks coming out of the woodwork, it is easy to fall behind and give in to the emotional drain of finals. However, there are many new (and not so new) tools we can use to facilitate this time of year. Here are some ideas that can ease the strain of the final weeks of a semester.

My colleagues and I are handed out roll books at the beginning of each term and I look at them in wonder. I have never kept a pen-and-paper roll book. As a graduate student I was taught using excel and I continue to allow the digital formulas to easily compute everything from attendance to participation. I have permission to simply print out my grade sheets and staple them in the hard-copy roll book. It saves me hours of calculations that many of my colleagues continue to do. It also allows me to know where each student stands every day of the semester, so I can easily warn students (or commend them) early in the term. Things are getting fancier in the digital grading arena: Blackboard's grading options are nice, but there are other software options like Class Action Gradebook ( and iGrade (designed more for k-12), GradeKeeper (, and SnapGrades ( These options can help instructors organize their time and track their students' progress and make recording final grades as simple as clicking a button.

Grading individual assignments is also going digital in my discipline of Communication Studies. The public speaking course instructor could explore SpeechGrader (, a software program that has been mentioned at several conferences recently for the ease in grading speeches. This software allows for individual student reports to be generated as well as an overview of class performance so instructors can easily target problem areas.

Of course, there are many options and opportunities to explore when it comes to efficiency and quality in recording student scores and providing useful student feedback. There is nothing wrong with handwritten grade books, but organizationally I enjoy the cleanliness and ease of Excel and Blackboard options. I find that it works nicely with my ability to access my grade books without lugging around hard copies and it facilitates a student-professor interaction when I can easily print out grade slips with all of the student's scores and hand them out at midterm to show where and how grades are devised.
Little techniques can help with our grading and most of those involve advanced planning and clear preparation of guidelines and rubrics (see also for more tips on efficient grading), but technology has become a part of the process.
Teaching tools are essential and just as engaging (I'm currently exploring Wordle -, Mindomo -, and many organizational/company-hosted teaching sites such as CSPAN- where my teaching can embrace new technologies while continuing to focus on content and critical listening. More teaching tools can be explored at Education World, a great place for teaching ideas and discussions:

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