Monday, 8 July 2013

Customising Comments: Using GradeMark for online marking


I have been using online marking for a couple of years now, using Turnitin's 'Grademark' system. This system seems to be increasingly ubiquitous, and although it has certainly helped to reduce the marking time it has taken quite a long time to get the hang of it.

Changing the way in which you mark can be rather traumatic.  Years of marking years that most teachers / lecturers will have a tried-and-tested system, and one of the first mistakes is in thinking that marking online involves having to develop an entirely new system, or dumping the ways in which you have worked in the past.  Of course one of the second mistakes is to then abandon those tried and trusted systems entirely, and think that they are no longer relevant.

As with any instance where computers become the tool for certain established tasks, we need to remember that the computer is just that - a tool.  It is not a system.  The trick is in getting this tool to reproduce (often more effectively) the same systems which we already know works.  In exploring this, we often find ways in which the tool can enable us to tweak the system and make it better still - but the tool can never (or should never) determine the system.

Anyway, although I do not claim the most expertise - or even to have come to the end of my explorations - I thought I might explain some of the ways I have developed the way I use the Grademark online marking system, in the hope that it might be useful for some, and that others might even be able to help me by offering some further suggestions.

Some of you may already know how Grademark works - for others it might be entirely new.  This is a screenshot of what I see when I open an essay for marking:

The system combines the 'Turnitin' originality check system, and anything which appears less than original is highlighted in red, and these can be checked using the 'Originality' report (top left corner).  I am not going to explain this, as it is a different process.  More pertinent to the marking of the essay is the set of comments in blue boxes which appears on the right.

Anyone who has marked or submitted a paper essay will be familiar with the idea of scribbling notes in the margins.  These comments are often - even more than the overall feedback - the most useful tool for students, because they pinpoint strengths and weakness in action, and identifying these can really help a student improve their work in the future because they are so specific.

A lot of these marginal comments have always been pretty standard.  Things like 'expression is weak here', or 'this is well argued' or 'could do with stronger supporting evidence' are such standard remarks that generally a marker will simply write the same thing over and over.

In fact, I was so scunnered of writing 'book titles in italics' 50 times per essay, that I eventually made a rubber stamp emblazoned with the legend and which gave me enormous psychological satisfaction to 'punch' the essay with on every transgression.

Online marking comes with a similar set of 'stamps'.  There is a default stamp set, but you can create your own simply by clicking on the essay and saving your comment as a new QuickMark:

You can edit your set by clicking on the spanner icon in the corner of the 'quickmarks' area.  This will bring up a dialogue where you can edit existing QuickMarks, or create your own set:

One of the best things I did when starting to use online marking, was to create my own set.  I created QuickMark comments which reflected all of the comments which I often used when marking essays - but because adding them was so easy, I was able to add more information in the description because I knew I would not be having to re-type or re-write it over and over again.

To begin with, my set ran to nearly 70 different comments, but over time I have reduced and consolidated these to around 30.  My current comments are:

??: Needs explanation

Avoid 1st Person: You should try to avoid the use of first person in academic writing.  Not only is third person the more accepted convention, the use of first person makes it difficult to create the tone of academic objectivity required in your writing.

Book Title: Book titles in bold or italic

Cap. Error: Missing capitals

Citation Incorrect: You have attempted to include appropriate citation information, but it is either inaccurate or inconsistent.  Every citation needs to be formatted in accordance with the College's Harvard referencing conventions (Year, Surname, p.).

Citation Missing: You have quoted, paraphrased or referred to a source here without providing the correct citation information for it (i.e., Sanders, 2004. p. 42).

Conjunction: While it is possible to start a sentence with a conjunction this is generally to be avoided as it is more commonly used as a rhetorical device, and one which is very difficult to use without sounding as though the sentence has simply started half-way through.

Del.: Delete

Evidence: You need to support this point with critical evidence, historical evidence, or evidence from the text itself.

Excellent: This is excellently phrased, and contributes depth and insight to your developing argument.

Good: This point is insightful and / or directly relates your work to the topic and the question which you are addressing.

Good quote: This quote is well chosen, either adding depth to your argument or providing an effective support for it.

Grammar: Your expression suffers from grammatical problems here.  It may be that your sentence is incomplete, or the subject/verb/object are in the wrong order.

Missing argument: You need to relate this point more clearly to your central argument.  Your essay should always have a central point which it is attempting to make, and this point will act as the thread which adds structure, focus and flow to your writing.  The problem here is that your essay seems to be missing this core.

Missing word: There is a word missing here which makes the sentence sound awkward or confused.

Not in biblio: This source is not in your bibliography

Punctuation: Missing punctuation

Quotation marks: use "quotation marks" for quotations

Relevance: You need to explain how this is relevant to your current line of argument, or to the question you are answering, because it is either not apparent at all or not clear enough here.

Repetition: You are repeating yourself here, or are repeating an argument which you have already made clear.

Sp.: spelling error

Specific: You need to be more specific here.

Tense or plural: Missing letters on the end of the word, or incorrectly on the end of words, to indicate the correct tense or to separate the active from the passive - or incorrect use of past, present and future tense.
Tone - default comment

Unclear: The ideas being developed here are complex, and in this instance it is not really clear what you are trying to say.  It may be that you are using terms which have a specific meaning, but which are being used too broadly, or that you are making a statement which is arguable and that it needs further development.

Unnecessary: There is a balance to be kept between the information which you need to make clear and explicit, and the information which is not really necessary.  For example, when defining what you think the play King Lear is about you need to be very clear and explicit.  However, when you remember who is going to be reading your essay, you probably do not need to explain either who wrote it, or what happens in it.

Very good: A nicely developed point

Well focused: You relate your points here well to your central argument

Word choice: Word choice here is wrong, either in terms of the grammar of the sentence or the meaning of the word.

What do you think of these comments?  Anything missing?