How I learned to hate grading less & how you can, too.

Last post, I gave app reviews and tips for taking attendance. Next up: grading.

I won’t give you the full “why go paperless” spiel. You’re a believer or you’re not. Some people just grade better on paper. I can tell you, though, that I honestly think I do a better job of grading now. Most important has been longitudinal quality control, for students and me both: I can keep graded papers to see when students improve, and also make sure I’m being consistent in grading. It’s also been logistically sooooooo much easier. No risk of lost papers. No need to correct my corrections when I make mistakes. I’m a convert, and therefore have a convert’s zeal. I’ll stop evangelizing now. Sorry about that.

Anyway, for now, I use GoodReader to do my grading. It’s a great, cheap PDF annotator, but honestly there are dozens of others to choose from.

Here is how I use it.
1- download papers from the cloud. GoodReader connects to lots of services, like Dropbox and Google Drive. (more on this in a forthcoming post on my fave cloud storage options)
2- annotate. You can use all sorts of stuff in Goodreader, but I stick to only a few for ease of use: underline/strikethrough, the free-write tool, and pop-up comment boxes. If I just have something short to write (eg: “good”) I can do that freehand. Notice in the pic attached, you can zoom in and get pretty good control, so much so that my doggy doodle is recognizable.
If it’s a longer comment, the pop-up comment box is better. I use a different color box for my final comments and grade.

What a graded paper may look like. Probably without the doggy.
What a graded paper may look like. Probably without the doggy.

3- “flatten”. This numbers all the comments in the pop-up comment boxes and creates a final page with them listed in order. I think this makes reading comments easier on the students, especially for long papers.

"Flattening" the annotated document creates a new page with all the pop-up box comments.
“Flattening” the annotated document creates a new page with all the pop-up box comments.

4- re-upload to the cloud. Goodreader has an easy export function.
5- input grades in my spreadsheet and send out annotated papers to students from my desktop. It’s just easier to keep track of multiple emails that way. One of these days I could probably figure out how to automate this task, though again I don’t mind the last quality-control check this affords me.

Another great – and built-in – feature of the iPad is text shortcuts. I don’t have to write “grammar”, “awkward phrasing”, “please consider spending more time proofreading”, or any other oft-used phrase. Instead, I use a shortcut. So for instance “gr” followed by a space automatically switches to “grammar”. This is a huge speed boost for grading and a hundred other tasks as well. Works on all iOS platforms, too.

Yes, setting up this paperless system took time, but I think it’s been worth it. It does take me a bit longer to grade than it used to, but I pay closer attention now instead of speeding through it. I don’t use Canvas, which means I receive lots of emails. I’m fine with that, but just for fun I also set up an upload option on my course site. That has worked well, too. It uploads the files directly to a special folder in my Dropbox, and even limits students to .doc and .pdf files.

My nifty upload option on my website. Please don't ask how long it took me to figure out how to do it. It's embarrassing.
My nifty upload option on my website. Please don’t ask how long it took me to figure out how to do it. It’s embarrassing.

Anyway, that’s it. Now all I need for grading is my iPad. Makes airplane carry-ons much easier. And stealth grading, too. Next time we’re in a meeting together, take a minute to wonder whether I’m grading instead of taking notes. (I would never do that. Really. I *heart* meetings.)

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