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Correcting Papers
by Prof. Jim Lengel, Boston University College of Communication (http://www.bu.edu/jlengel and http://www.lengel.net)

It's the burden that every teacher bears. It's the often late-night shuffle of worksheets and essays that demand attention and evaluation. And yet its results are essential to students' learning, and its process forms a kernel of student-teacher interaction.

No matter how you go about correcting papers, to do it well takes time, energy, and judgment. Most teachers have learned how to make the process as efficient as possible, by setting rules for the appearance of student work, by quantifying the grading criteria, and by developing a standard set of symbols and abbreviations to communicate their corrections to students. We all search for a way to provide the most feedback in the least amount of time. This week's article looks at how technology can help with the quotidian task of correcting papers.

Avoid printing

At the Liberty Mutual insurance company office in New Hampshire, trucks full of claims mailed in by customers arrive at the loading dock each day. Before the day is out, all of the claim papers are destroyed. Shredded. The claims, some handwritten, some typed on standard insurance forms, are opened, scanned, and saved in digital form on a server. The originals go into the trash. From here on, all the work is done with the online electronic copies. Claims are processed and checks issued without any printing whatsoever. The company looks forward to the day when all claims are filed directly online, thus avoiding the scanning.

As more and more student work is submitted in digital form, as a file instead of a sheet of paper, we may follow the example of the insurance company, avoid the natural tendency to print the students work, and then correct the printed copy. As you will see, it's much easier and more efficient (and environmentally proper) to correct the digital copy, and avoid printing altogether. The first step in computerizing the correcting of papers is to structure your assignments so that the students' work can be submitted as a Word document, a PowerPoint slide show, a Web page, a video clip, or other type of digital document. The rest of this article shows you how to work with these files to perform the various tasks we associate with the correction of papers.

Editing vs. Commenting

Let's start with a typical example: a student essay submitted as a Word document. Depending on our teaching style and objectives, we may want to edit the paper: change the words and punctuation to show the student the way it should have been written. Or we may want to comment on the paper: tell the student what we think about certain passages. Microsoft Word provides tools for both of these processes. We open the student's document in Word, and begin our work.

How to edit with markup tools

You want the changes tat you make to the student's paper to show up in red. This is easy. From the menubar, choose Tools -- Track Changes -- Highlight Changes. In the dialog box that appears, check off all three boxes, including Track changes while editing. Now go ahead and edit the document as you normally would, by selecting the mistakes, and entering in the corrections from the keyboard. Watch as your corrections show in red, and the student's original words remain crossed-out. When you save the edited document, and send it back to the student, she will see the edits in the same manner. This turns out to be much faster and easier to use by both student and teacher than the old process of correcting with a pen or pencil.

How to add comments

Suppose you find a sentence that's missing its verb. Select the sentence. Then from the menubar choose Insert -- Comment. You will see a box open up at the bottom of the screen. Enter your comments into this box, such as This sentence is missing it's verb. Your comment will be saved, and the student will see the errant sentence highlighted. When he clicks the sentence, he will see your comment. You may in this same way insert as many comments as you like into the document.

How to correct with drawing tools

Suppose you are correcting a diagram or a drawing created by the student in Word. The editing and commenting tools may not be the best for this. Better to use the circles and arrows of the drawing tools to add your comments. Make sure your drawing toolbar is showing by choosing View -- Toolbars -- Drawing from the menubar. Now you have three different ways to add comments.

Text box

  1. Choose the text box tool (letter A).
  2. Click and drag in the document to draw a text box.
  3. Enter your comments into the text box.
  4. Click the Lines button on the drawing toolbar.
  5. Choose the arrow tool from the collection of lines.
  6. Click and drag the mouse from the text box to the appropriate place on the student's document.
  7. Use the Line Color button on the drawing toolbar to make the arrow red.

Callouts

  1. On the drawing toolbar, click the AutoShapes button.
  2. Choose Callouts from the list of possibilities.
  3. Select one of the callout types (these are little speech bubbles and boxes, like you see in the comics).
  4. Click and drag on the student's document to draw the callout.
  5. Enter your comment into the callout.

Circles and arrows

  1. From the drawing toolbar, click the Lines button.
  2. From the six possibilities, choose the scribble tool.
  3. Draw a circle around the item you want to identify on the student's document.
  4. Choose the text box tool (letter A).
  5. Click and drag in the document to draw a text box.
  6. Enter your comments about the circled item into the text box.
  7. Click the Lines button on the drawing toolbar.
  8. Choose the arrow tool from the collection of lines.
  9. Click and drag the mouse from the text box to the circle you just made.

How to correct math equations and plots

The last three methods above can be applied to text documents, diagrams, drawings, and even pictures. They can also be used to comment on students' math equations and plots.(Last week's article showed how to use Word's Equation Editor and drawing tools to work with math equations and plots in Word.)

With all these methods of correcting documents, you must save the commented document and return it to the student by email or through a class server or learning management system.

Correct work, not papers

So you're not correcting papers anymore -- you are editing, commenting, and remarking your students' work in digital form. With a little practice, this can be a faster, neater, and more useful process.



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