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Paperless Grading with GradeMark

Grading. Who wants to think about grading papers now, at the beginning of January, when the bitter end of last term might not have entirely faded from your memory? Yet the best time to consider changing the format or requirements for student work is now, before assignments are due.

Many instructors choose to have students submit written work in digital form, rather than in printed hard copy format. But if you’ve been collecting paper copies for years, it can sometimes seem overwhelming to change your methods, especially when there are many different ways to do this.

In this post, I’m going to discuss using Turnitin.com for receiving student work and its grading component, GradeMark, for digital grading. I know that some people are strongly opposed to using Turnitin  because it keeps copies of student papers in its plagiarism checking database. Yet for many other faculty, Turnitin  is a familiar or required component of educational practice on many campuses.   I’m not interested in debating the ethical points of Turnitin here.

Instead, my goal is to give a brief overview of some of the features of Turnitin that could be helpful for those instructors curious about what it has to offer. Many of the features I’m discussing may exist in other course management systems or could be recreated using spreadsheets etc, if your institution does not use Turnitin or if you do not want to because of its plagiarism checking component.

What is Turnitin
Turnitin.com is a subscription-only suite of tools that includes plagiarism detection, management of submitted work, digital grading, and peer commenting. Your institution has to have a subscription in order for you and your students to use the Turnitin service. Institutions can subscribe to the basic service or to the basic service plus one or more of the additional components. GradeMark is one of these add-on components. If you are interested in using Turnitin, you will first need to find out whether your institution has a subscription and which components are included.

If you are using Turnitin as a stand-alone service, you set up your course and then give your students a course ID number and password. Students have to set up their own Turnitin login/pwd, and then use your course ID to set up their access to your course. If you already use a course management system like Blackboard, check and see if it includes integration with Turnitin. Using Turnitin through your CMS is convenient for students, since they don’t need a separate login and are automatically given access when you set up assignment links. However, depending on the CMS and how your institution has set up the integration, you may not have access to all features of the service.

Digital Submission of Student Work
I have been having students submit written assignments in digital form for many years. Some of the advantages of doing this through Turnitin (or your CMS) include:

  • Separating the assignment due date/time from class time. If my course meets on T/Th, I’ll set the due date for assignments on Friday or Saturday, thereby avoiding the groggy students and weak discussion that used to be typical on paper collection days.
  • All submissions are time- and date-stamped. Turnitin allows instructors to decide whether or not to accept assignments after the due date/time.
  • Although some students will occasionally have trouble accessing the site, I have found students report far fewer problems and far fewer excuses regarding technology than when students submit work via email.
  • The instructor is not directly involved in the process of receiving student work. If you teach large numbers of students, this saves a lot of time that otherwise is taken up with downloading/renaming attachments, coaching students in file naming conventions, or responding to student excuses about late work.
  • Student submissions are stored on the site’s server. You can either download them to your own computer for grading and/or printing, or you can grade them electronically using GradeMark if your institution has subscribed to it.
  • If you use GradeMark, submissions stay on the server, which is convenient if you frequently use several different computers as I do. This way I don’t have to take the extra step of copying the files to a thumbdrive or online service like DropBox.

Plagiarism Checking
Although today it offers a full suite of pedagogical tools, Turnitin was first known for its plagiarism checking service. When a student submits a paper to Turnitin, it is checked against a database of previously submitted student work and a variety of online and print research sources. If the system finds passages of identical text, it flags them for the instructor to review. Almost every paper will have some passages flagged, because quotations from a primary text will show up in numerous sources and papers. However, it is very easy for an instructor to glance at the flagged passages and see if they are properly-cited quotations or something else.

GradeMark
The GradeMark component of Turnitin gives instructors a full-featured digital environment for grading and commenting on student work. After grades are posted by the instructor, students can access GradeMark to review comments and print or save a copy of the graded files. Some of the features of GradeMark include:

  • Inline highlighting of text and marginal commenting.
  • Predefined palettes for inline comments, including standard proofreading marks, punctuation, and common grammatical errors. To insert one of these marks into the text, you simply click on the palette button. It shows up as a mark on the paper and links to a explanation of its meaning.
  • User-defined palettes for inline comments, so you can create your own one-click palette for your frequently-used comments.
  • A generous space for general comments, which is where I write paragraphs of commentary as I would at the end of a student’s paper.
  • User-defined rubrics which can be used either with or without grade calculation. The rubric tool offers several different options for setting the calculation of grades (by set numbers or percentages) and makes the construction of new rubrics very easy.

Personally Speaking
I’ve been using Turnitin for 4 years, first as a stand-alone service and then as an integrated component of WebCT and now Blackboard, the CMS used by my university. Many faculty at my university use Turnitin and it is an accepted part of our campus culture. In my experience, knowing that their work will be submitted through the service encourages students to pay closer attention to my discussion of citation practices and plagiarism. It probably also serves as a deterrent to some forms of plagiarism. I try to create assignments that would be difficult to plagiarize, but it does happen now and then anyway. If I suspect from looking at a paper that it is not entirely the student’s own writing, then I’ll review what Turnitin has flagged as part of my assessment. I don’t review every flag on every paper I receive.

More important to me than the plagiarism checking function of Turnitin is its ease of use in managing submitted work and the digital grading features. Using Turnitin makes students act more responsibly in uploading their essays than they tend to with emailing attachments. I’d much rather assist one or two students with some technical problem with using Turnitin (usually very easily resolved) than have to personally handle receiving 480 email attachments in a given semester.

Using Turnitin has made the grading process much faster and more enjoyable for me, which is definitely good for me and for my students. Although it is certainly possible to create your own versions of the grading tools (in the past, I have created my own comment macros in Word Perfect, used Microsoft Word’s “track changes” feature to write marginal comments, and created my own rubrics in Excel) I’m happy to use tools that are simple and effective in a cohesive package such as this.

I switched to using Turnitin as an integrated component with Blackboard because it is more familiar and convenient for my students to use than having a separate login to Turnitin.   However, I regret losing some instructor features (portfolio view and a nice gradebook tool) because of the integration.

Many faculty only associate Turnitin with plagiarism detection; however, I’ve found that its other features definitely improve my efficiency and effectiveness as an instructor.

[image: GradeMark logo]

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