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Grading and giving feedback: Can it be simpler and more effective?

  • 4 Min Read

As long as there’s been an educational system in place, grading has come hand in hand. Assessment has traditionally been there to track students’ understanding of a topic or concept, and essentially punctuate their journey to skill attainment. Feedback is an important part of the puzzle, helping identify areas that students can improve on before final assessment – practice makes perfect after all.

However, as we’ve moved into the digital age, traditional processes have changed to accommodate and leverage the advantages of online assessment, but how is digitized assessment really impacting the grading and feedback process today?

What do we know now?

Online assessment has proven efficiencies – marking paper-based assignments is time consuming and sometimes unreliable; paper is a lot easier to lose and the content a lot harder to recreate than finding your original file on a device. Unsurprisingly, with growing pressures on academics to research, inspire, and assess more students, time efficiencies afforded by marking online has increased the adoption of digitized assessments.

Creating assignments online means that students have consistent access to instructions, supporting documents, and even marking criteria in rubric form so they can better understand what’s expected of them. Automatic reminders of deadlines, tracking of who has (and hasn’t) submitted an assignment, and in some cases automated marking of things like quizzes, mean that academic workload is significantly reduced, allowing them to take more time understanding where their cohort is falling down and consequently provide them with more remedial opportunities to improve.

With a digitally native student body, timely access to feedback and grades is almost an expectation – online assessment helps make this process consistent for both them and their assessors, with grades and feedback being released with the click of a button. Being able to view historical grades and feedback encourages students to reflect on their feedback and progress throughout the course as well – If you grade a student’s paper and then ask for it back a month or two later, how many do you think you’d get? Feedback online is always easily accessible and far less likely to disappear, and with greater emphasis on assessment in education, the more formative assessments and feedback given to a student, the more confident and practiced they can become.

Technology is not just a time saver

As much as online assessment does decrease the amount of time taken to create and mark assignments, technology can do more than just save you time. Most pieces of day to day technology are marketed as helping you cut time and take away small tasks so you have more time to do things that you want. Exploring different ways of giving feedback and what resonates with particular assessment types can take time, but the impact this has on students is robust; a combination of these methods can ultimately improve feedback quality.

Annotating documents can provide specific inline feedback on submissions, identifying exact points in an essay to contextualize the summary feedback traditionally found on them. More importantly, annotations online can also draw live connections between different parts of the course, literally tagging topics covered elsewhere to help plug knowledge gaps and encourage students to think more laterally about the subject.

Similarly, rubrics can help streamline more specific feedback by allowing staff to add additional personal feedback to each criterion, expanding on why they chose that level and what additional work would be required to improve on it. Having these rubrics online means you can look at their associated statistics to easily identify what areas of essay writing you need to focus on as a class, making them an invaluable tool for formative assessment.

Life beyond text

Text based feedback has historically been the “norm”, but as technology evolves, marking is not limited to paper, or indeed just written, as Mark Deans’, the Deputy Head Teacher at West Bridgford School in Nottingham explains: “The teachers have particularly been enjoying the grading app. They can mark students’ work onscreen with written and verbal feedback via voice recording, and can even see how the students have responded to the feedback, saving them time and enabling them to engage with a generation that often feels more comfortable with technology.”

Video and audio feedback allow staff to contextualize written feedback quickly and easily, elaborating on any key areas whilst also helping students understand their tone – sometimes “Good work.” comes across a little curt. Moving from school to university often means you become part of a larger cohort, and so audio/video feedback can help combat this sense of anonymity as it is not only more personal, but generally more exciting and unexpected than something text based.

Ultimately, as students are more and more pressured to excel academically, isn’t leveraging these new feedback varieties to engage them with the sentiment and content of feedback, instead of just a numeric grade, the whole point anyway?

In the second blog in this series, we’ll be talking about how the assessment landscape itself is changing as an increase in skills based assessment requires new and improved grading and feedback workflows.

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