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Eight Reasons to Grade Essays Electronically

I know, I know, you have a system. But here are eight reasons to go paperless and do your grading electronically.

Leave a Paper Trail by Going Paperless

By having students submit assignments via email, Dropbox, or Blackboard, you automatically have documentation indicating when (or if) students have turned in their work. This can head off many potential disputes and misunderstandings.

Your Handwriting Is Terrible</strong>

Elder Futhark

If your writing starts looking like this, break out the keyboard.

You might pride yourself on your impeccable penmanship, but even Wang Xizhi might become indecipherable after marking up his 39th essay. Having a student approach you to clarify what you’ve written can be embarrassing, and some might not even bother to parse your chicken scratch.

Take Control of Your Feedback

Marking a paper essay involves cramming comments into margins and between lines. Sometimes serendipity takes over and you just manage to explain subject-verb agreement in the space allotted. More likely, you’ll be forced to cut off something useful, or write so small that you’re flirting with indecipherability.

You might say that paper grading helps instructors resist the temptation to leave novel-length comments, which are impractical and time-consuming. I would argue that some points need deeper explication, and others (“This phrase is cliché.”) might benefit from a bit of finesse in their delivery. When you grade electronically, the length of your comments is not predetermined, and you can go into as much or as little detail as needed in a section.

Provide Links and Supporting Documents

Sometimes a well-chosen link can be an invaluable supplement to a comment. By giving feedback electronically you can add links to library books, articles, word definitions, or grammar and style guidelines much more readily than you can with pen and paper. I sometimes also add additional style and grammar documentation after my final comments if particular issues cropped up frequently in the paper.

Students (And Trees) Prefer Electronic Submissions

Poor little tree

What did this poor tree ever do to you?

Anyone who has wrestled with an ornery printer knows that these devices are a fickle breed, liable to become unresponsive, jam, or run out of “cyan ink” in a moment of crisis. By allowing students to send their papers directly to you, you’re making their lives slightly easier. You’re also saving paper, which is made out of the bodies of friendly trees.

Streamline the Process

There are a number of tips and tricks that can save you time and effort when grading essays electronically:

Teach Your Students New Skills

Many students have never encountered tools such as Dropbox or MS Word’s Track Changes before and will benefit from a working knowledge of how they function. Track changes, in particular, is used in a number of office environments, and Dropbox and other cloud storage services are becoming increasingly prevalent.

Access Reference Materials and Check for Plagiarism

Sometimes it helps to double check the spelling of a word or to refresh your memory on an obscure grammar rule or citation guideline. When working electronically, it becomes easier to reference these materials and incorporate them into your comments. Finally, in cases of suspected plagiarism, you can copy sections of a paper into a tool such as Copyscape Premium, a tool that is more difficult to access when working from a printout.