Taming the Looming Grading Beast

With the optimism and re-invigorated spirit that comes with the start of a brand new semester, it’s a great time to add tools to your toolkit that can make your faculty life easier and keep a spring in your step.

grading monster

If you’ve ever gotten a bit (or even a lot) behind on grading, you understand that a giant stack of grading can loom over you like a grotesque monster striking fear into your heart.  We all have different reactions to the monster.  Some of us run away and pretend like it doesn’t exist, deciding instead that every other task is at that moment more important; often at these moments, our house has never been cleaner.  Others are determined to vanquish the monster and return to a state of peace and serenity.  Still others approach the beast with best intentions but are bogged down by the shear enormity of the creature that we face and become dismayed.

Look, eventually you’re going to have to grade those papers, so why not grade smarter and faster?  We’ve got a host of tools at our disposal at Georgia State that can lend a hand in this never-ending battle.

Mobile Grading

First, let’s talk mobile, because grading on the go means that you can grade anywhere and at anytime.  There are two apps that can truly streamline the grading process and get you kicking your heals back with grading done and a smile on your face in no time at all.  In prior posts (here and here) we’ve mentioned the Desire2Learn Assignment Grader App and Turnitin for iPad.  Both apps allow you to grade Dropbox assignments offline.  This is a pretty big deal since it means that you can grade untethered from a network.  Grade from the beach, the park, the bar…(okay, the bar is probably a bad idea), but grade wherever you are most relaxed and able to tackle this daunting task.

Here is a quick feature comparison of the two apps:

D2L Assignment Grader

Turnitin for iPad

Devices? iPad only iPad only
Cost Free Free
Offline grading? yes yes
Markup and feedback Options? Rubrics

Inline comments

Personalized feedback

Simple text, audio, or video feedback

Handwritten feedback



QuickMark® comments

Personalized comments

Highlights with comments

Bubble comments

Inline comments

Strikethrough text

Voice comments

General comments

Rubric grading


Other Options

Now if you don’t have an iPad, then you may be thinking to yourself, “Great.  Struck out again.  Why isn’t there something I can use?”  Well, snap out of the dour, “Why me?” attitude.  You’re starting to sound like Eeyore.  We’ve got you covered.  There is even an option for offline grading.  So here are a couple of quick tips for streamlining your grading sans iPad.

Bulk Download and Upload of Assignments

If you’d like to download all of the submitted files for a Dropbox and grade papers using the Track Changes feature of Word, you can.  When you are viewing Dropbox submissions, simply click the check box at the top of the list of submissions to select all of the papers and click Download.  This will download a zip file containing all of the student work.  D2L automatically creates a name for each file that includes the student’s name, the date they submitted the assignment, and the name of their assignment.

Bulk Download

With the files downloaded, you can begin your markup and save the files normally.  Since the files are downloaded, note that you do not have to be online during this process, so go somewhere peaceful.

“But how do I efficiently get those files back into D2L as feedback for the assignment?” you may be asking.  Well, there is literally (literally in the non-literal sense) an “Easy button.”  The button actually says Add Feedback, but it is definitely easy to use.  You’ll need to zip the folder containing your documents, and then upload them using this button.  If you didn’t change the name of any of the files, Desire2Learn should quickly associate the files with the correct students.

Bulk Upload

Turnitin, Grammar Checker, GradeMark, and Rubrics

There are four other grading options that can simplify your grading process and help you focus on providing encouraging and productive feedback rather than feeling overwhelmed by the daunting nature of the grading endeavor.  However, unlike bulk download grading, for these tools to work from your laptop or desktop computer, you’ll have to be online.

Turnitin LogoPlagiarism detection, Grammar Checker, and GradeMark are tools that integrate with the D2L Dropbox courtesy of Turnitin.  By checking a single checkbox when setting up your Dropbox, you’ll enable all three of these tools.  The default set up will automatically check all submissions against Turnitin’s database of submitted work and against online sources for sections where work is plagiarized, so you can catch those sneakers who try get something past you or who honestly don’t understand the nature of academic honesty.

In addition, both Grammar Checker and the GradeMark tool make providing meaningful feedback a breeze.  Grammar Checker will automatically mark up student work wherever there are mechanical issues like spelling errors and comma splices.  Then the GradeMark tool provides a set of commonly used comments that you can drag onto the student paper.  You can even create your own library of comments to personalize feedback.

The final tool that you may consider adding to your toolkit is the rubric.  Rubrics in D2L can set up criteria by which you will grade student work.  You can then create different achievement levels for each criteria.  This can help by both automating scoring and feedback.  By quickly checking the achievement level for each criterion on the rubric, D2L will calculate the grade.  If you built in feedback for each achievement level, then students will also get custom feedback that relates to their performance.  For example, if a students cores a 1 out of 5 for mechanics, you might have built-in feedback that suggests that they visit the writing center, use spell check, and proof read their work before submitting.

By incorporating a combination of these tools into your grading routine, you can tame the looming grading beast and keep his ferocity to manageable levels.  If you’d like further advice or support in fine-tuning your grading workflow, please stop by the Exchange in Library South, room 106.  We’d love to help.


Image Credits:

Documents by Johannes Hirsekorn from The Noun Project 

Monster by Alex WaZa from The Noun Project

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Posted in Cool Tools, The Exchange
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