Jason Mittell (Film & Media Culture) and James Morrison (Political Science) are faculty at Middlebury who are moving towards completely paperless teaching and research. Both cite similar reasons for preferring electronic versions of papers, articles and even books. Digital documents are simply easier to organize and access when everything else you do is on your laptop. Having your students submit electronic versions of their assignments means that you can retain a definitive copy of all your students’ work which is handy when you need to write references, find model essays from past classes to guide your current students or search for evidence of plagiarism. This case study will focus on receiving and grading electronic versions of student papers.
Both Jason and James use email as the primary means of collecting assignments from students for the following reasons:
- emails are timestamped providing a simple way to ensure deadlines are met
- email provides a single place to archive records of all papers
- email ensures a definitive version of student work
Both ask students to simply attach their assignment to an email post and send it them. To help organize emails from students, they often ask students to include something in the subject line of the email that will flag the email as one containing an assignment. For example they might ask students to put the name of the assignment in the subject line (e.g Assignment 1) perhaps even include the course code (fmmc0243). This allows them to use “email rules” to filter these emails into a folder for later review. Both have similar workflows for compiling assignments for grading. Each downloads papers to a single folder on their computer, opens the documents and does a quick check for the correct title and makes sure the word count was within the assignment guidelines. For many classes, they would then send students an email confirming they received of the paper.
Grading in Microsoft Word/OpenOffice
Jason requires his students to submit their papers in .rtf format, a rich text format that is compatible with most word processing applications. While Jason uses OpenOffice, similar features are available in Microsoft Word. The document is opened and “track changes” is enabled (Tools > Track Changes). Track changes allows Jason to add changes to the student’s paper in a way that preserves the original version for the student to compare. Jason uses the commenting feature (Insert > Comment) to add comments inline. For frequently used comments Jason has set up AutoText (Insert > AutoText) entries. Jason will usually add additional comments as well as the grade at the end of the document. Then he saves the document appending to its original filename “-comments-JM” and attaches it to an email to the student.
Grading PDF documents
James prefers to do his grading in .pdf format and has published detailed Essay Submissions guidelines. James uses Adobe Acrobat, software that is not widely available on campus, but many of his techniques can be followed using freely available PDF tools. For PC users he recommends Foxit Reader and for Mac users Skim (Macs also come with an application called Preview that is comparable). Like Word, these tools also have commenting features that allow you to insert inline comments. Some of these tools also allow you to create stamps of various colors and sizes that can be used for common comments. James has compiled a number of such stamps.