Marking projects online: the teacher’s survival kit
I have been marking projects online for some time now (long ones, like 1.500 words) and I must admit… it isn’t easy, although it isn’t that bad either. So, today, fellow teachers, I am going to write a post about the Do’s, the Don’ts and ”OK, this will work” of marking projects online. We do live in the technological era anyhow, don’t we? So, out with the paper and in with the lap top : S.
A bit of context:
At the moment, I am teaching English for academic purposes in the UK. One of the tasks students attending these courses have to fulfill is writing a research project.

Turnitin: This week my students used TurnitinUK and submitted the first draft of their research project. For those of you that have never used Turnitin, it is a website where you register, set an assignment and it is where your students can upload their projects (this is the ‘assignment’ you set). Once the learners have uploaded their projects, it checks them for plagiarism and gives an Originality report. In this report you can see which parts of the paper have been plagiarised and it also automatically shows you the source and the section they copied from. It also has a tab called Grademark which you can use to comment on the student’s work and give feedback. There are lots of different sections which can be used for feedback so it does allow for different types of feedback. There are tabs which let you give oral feedback (you can be all fancy and record your oral feedback). You can use comment bubbles which let you make in-text comments. There is also a general feedback area, where you can write texts. You can use different types of highlighters and you can also import generic comments if you think it is necessary (it definitely saves you time).

Reasons why it is a good idea to mark essays/projects online.

  • It is good for the environment and you/your students save money on paper and… pens. You also save space in your drawers, on your shelves etc.
  • It checks the plagiarism very quickly and quite effectively. There may of course be paragraphs that turnitin or any other software cannot detect but then you can double check by doing a Google check or something else.
  • No one loses their project+feedback. Everything is online. Stored forever.
  • It is good to use as a teaching tool during class. Why? Well, as I said earlier, if it checks for plagiarism, you can see what problems your learners have. You will see if your students have difficulty paraphrasing or if they need help with citations etc. You can then use it with them and show them what they need to work on. The same goes for other learner errors.
  • You can add links to your feedback comments and your students can press the links and practice or check something immediately.

Take baby steps

  • If this is the first time you are marking online, give yourself some acclimatizing time. For your first project, estimate that you will need about an hour or more to mark it. This is because the software you will be using, will be unfamiliar to you, so you will be trying to figure out how to highlight, how to use comment bubbles etc.
What else?
  • Give yourself breaks after every two hours. This is good for your eyes, your back and your hands. You can really get bad backaches if you just sit in front of a pc marking for hours.
  • Start with a project you think will be a good one. Choose to correct one of the stronger students first. If you start with a bad project, you will be discouraged by both the online marking and the project : (.
  • Make sure you have good lighting. If you wear glasses, put them on, and if you are using a lap top, always check your battery. You do not want to be losing any of your comments (some websites save automatically though, so you won’t have to worry if the lap top runs out of battery).
  • Close all other website pages. It is very easy to get distracted by a Facebook message, an email or whatever else you like checking out online. Marking projects online requires a lot of concentration, so steer clear of all other online temptations.
  • Warning: do not be fooled by the fact that you probably only see the title of your students’ projects (in Turnitin for example, you see the titles, once you click the title, then you see the project). They are still very long projects and just because you cannot see the piles of paper, doesn’t mean they do not exist.
Bottom line: It is just like marking a paper project but it just takes a bit of getting used to. I usually read the whole project once. I then check it and make comments, give feedback. Once I have checked all my projects, I go through them once more and tweak my comments or add whatever I think needs adding.
Do I really have to mark online?
Well, you are probably already finding material online, reading online, teaching online. It is now time to mark online. In the EAP world, it is not really an option anymore. It is just they way papers are marked. C’est la vie.
Don’t be scared, just do it : ).
Till next time…….

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