Teacher tips for more effective grading

Most teachers, including those like me who absolutely LOVE teaching, consider grading a chore. It is repetitive, and it takes a lot of time. Here are some tips I learned from Linda Nilson at Clemson University that can help make grading more effective:

1. Begin by sorting

Look over all the assignments quickly and sort them into categories such as: excellent, very good, OK, not so good, poor. Now that the harder decision is made, you can further save time if you:

2. Use a grading rubric

The more detailed your grading rubric, the less comments you have to write on assignments. All you have to do is highlight the category that applies. Just Google and learn how to create good grading rubrics. Even after providing feedback on a grading rubric, you feel you want to say more. In this case, consider doing the following:

Grading rubric

3. Provide collective feedback

Write a note to the entire class and provide overall feedback without identifying any individuals. You can structure it like this:

Overall, excellent assignments showed these features, and had these kinds of mistakes:…… (make lists).

Overall, assignments that did not meet expectations did these things well but had these kinds of mistakes: … (make lists).

4. Outsource the grading onto students

One brilliant tip I remember from Linda is a win-win situation. If an assignment has lots and lots of minor errors (e.g. typos), return the graded assignment to student but do not point out every minor error. Tell the student that if s/he identifies X number of errors, s/he can get X number of lost points back. This is a very good learning experience for the student, and saves the teacher time.

There are many other tips out there, but these are the ones I know that have helped me a lot. If you are interested in learning more from Linda, check out her book:

Teaching at its best – book

This last one is from me:

5. Trust your first instinct

Beginning teachers spend a LOT of time double-guessing their decisions. You think this assignment is a B+, then spend 45 minutes arguing with yourself, only to arrive at the same decision that it is a B+. Trust your first instinct. Be confident. You’re usually right. If you’re not, be on the student’s side and try to see how they can do better and earn a higher grade. Usually tip #1 above helps reduce agonizing time.

What other tips do you have that can make grading more effective?

Reading notes: The Distraction Addiction

I have been looking forward to this book since Alex first told me he was working on it (he was kind enough to agree to serve on the advisory board for a project I planned).

The book doesn’t disappoint. OK, that’s an understatement. It’s one of those books I wish I had written.

Even though this is a book about the dangers of technology use, it is not one of those panicked, hopeless, technology-hating arguments. It is a guide for making the best out of technology – for using it rather than being used by it.

The book’s premise rests in the idea of the extended mind, a concept Alex reframes as entanglement with technology. At its best, entanglement is a state of feeling the body and mind being pleasantly and seamlessly extended by technology – perceiving technology as part of oneself, just like a skilled skier perceives the skis as part of herself when zooming down a slope. This kind of entanglement has been happening since the beginning of history and tool use. Whether you use skis, an axe, a bicycle, a pen, a car, or a computer, you can have that sense of it extending your human abilities, being a part of yourself. However, there are times when entanglement goes wrong, and technology feels like a pair of broken, uncomfortable, awkward high-heel shoes. Then, it becomes an extension of yourself that hinders movement, an arm that doesn’t obey the brain’s commands; a cause of frustration and stress.

The book is grounded in solid Western empirical research as well as Eastern thought and practice. It combines the two to propose a guide for the positive kind of entanglement. In the last chapter, it offers 8 principles for doing so:

  1. be human
  2. be calm
  3. be mindful
  4. make conscious choices
  5. extend your abilities
  6. seek flow
  7. engage with the world
  8. restore your capacity for attention

The book ends beautifully and hopefully:

“You are the inheritor of a contemplative legacy that you can use to retake control of your technology, to tame the monkey mind, and to redesign your extended mind. Connection is inevitable. Distraction is a choice.”

The question remains, how easy and feasible is the plan proposed in this book? I find it feasible, but not necessarily easy. It requires some training of executive attention (aka mindfulness) that might take a while to develop, and demands commitment to regular practice.

Cell phones & the fear of being alone

While I’m a technology lover, I do agree with the point of view that by using technology (especially cell phones) so much we miss out on or plain avoid the opportunity to be alone.

There is a lot of self-knowledge to be gained from being alone and free of incoming information. But it often hurts and is scary. So we avoid it by reaching for connection (aka cell phone). Sherry Turkle argues that the kind of connection we get this way is not always authentic and satisfying. It is a cheap replacement, like a cheap “nutritional” drink is a replacement for a healthy, nourishing meal.

Anyway, arguments like the one above are boring. But this comedian explains it much better on Conan:

Can you try to pay attention and notice when you are using your phone to avoid being alone? Can you try practicing being alone, just sitting there, without music or any other stimulus, for maybe 5 minutes every other day, and see what happens?

Know what you know

As I was getting ready to leave my first ever grown-up academic job for a brand new academic adventure, a dear colleague gave me this piece of advice:

Remember this: You know what you know.

It’s one of the best pieces of advice I was ever given, and I find myself passing it on to young professionals, and many women who, like me at that time, might not yet have enough self confidence.

I’ve turned this around into:

Know what you know.

First, know your stuff. Don’t bluff. Don’t cut corners. Do the work. And then, remember and trust that you know it. Have confidence in yourself and what you know.

What is some very good advice that you were given early in your career?

 

 

Active learning ideas for CGT 512

I am fully behind the theory of active learning, but I struggle with putting it in practice. It takes a lot of creativity to engineer situations that stimulate active learning, and I am not entirely trained – I don’t know the toolbox. But I try.

I’m pretty proud of what we did in my HCI graduate course tonight, and I don’t want to forget it, so here we go:

Discussion on GUI history ended with question about where future interface paradigms are headed. We experimented with tangible computing. I gave each group some items (toys, boxes, trinkets)  to use as starting points for designing a communication system that uses those items for interaction.

The students had read 4 articles on various types and aspects of HCI design (UCD, participatory/value sensitive, critical, and a comparison article). We started by ranking the reading is terms of: ease of understanding and favorites. This gave me a feel for what reading(s) were harder to understand. I asked question to tease out the essence of each article and then each team got post-its of 2 different colors. On one color they had to list activities the authors undertook as part of the design process, and on the other, concepts that were new to them. One item per post-it.

I then asked 2 groups to combine their activities on one board and  their concepts on another, and then organize them into categories and name each category. We heard brief presentations of the categories on each board, and I interjected points meant to link everything together.

Ended class with some questions meant to integrate the material and 2 minutes of reflection for students to note down their take-aways.

Summer reading group

This summer, a group of graduate students and I met about every week to discuss 1-2 articles from recent conference proceedings. It has been an amazing experience that taught me 3 main things:

  1. This is what learning is supposed to be like
    We met because we wanted to, not because we had to (which is actually true of graduate school). We talked about all sorts of other things, we drank tea, ate, giggled. The meetings were, I think, free of stress, pressure, and grade anxiety. Yet, we learned a lot. This makes me think of how universities first started – a group of people gathered around an older, “wiser” person, walking around and discussing. Because they wanted to. A model where students sought the teacher and instruction was personal.
  2. Creating a family away from home is a very good idea
    Many of the students in the group, as well as I, are internationals. We are far away from our families. Let’s face it, we get lonely. I know I do. It is possible, and even a very good idea, to create a makeshift family by gathering nice people you care about around a table (food or tea help!). We held a couple of meetings at my house. We ate. We laughed at the cats’ antics. We felt a sense of warmth and belonging, and possibly of the kind of safety that only being in the midst of family gives you.
  3. Female fellowship is precious
    Over the summer, all the participants to the reading group were female. I loved the energy and the relaxed atmosphere (and the giggles!) of an all-female group. As I get older, I appreciate more and more the special qualities of female fellowship and friendship. I don’t quite have the vocabulary to express why this is so precious to me, but I feel it very clearly.

I would really like to thank each and every one of the bright and lovely women in this summer’s reading group – and would love to hear what you got out of this experience!

I look forward to this semester’s meetings :)

With gratitude,

Dr. V

How to write a Discussion chapter for your thesis or dissertation

WhatDoesItAllMean-300x115I noticed that the Discussion chapter is one of the hardest to write, especially when you are so close to the results and your head is wrapped up in all the data. Writing the Discussion chapter requires taking a few big steps back and seeing the big picture. For that reason, I often write it with my eyes closed, without looking at the results. Or I ask students to imagine they ran into a friend or colleague at a coffee shop. They don’t have the manuscript or slides on them. They just need to explain to the colleague, without using numbers, or tables, or figures – just narrative – the following:

  • what they did (briefly)
  • what they found – what were the significant, memorable findings?
  • what do the findings mean? – what does it mean that X was rated as 4.61 and Y was rated as 3.93?
  • do the best of your knowledge, why do you think that is? what accounts for these results?
  • why are the findings significant/important/useful? how can they be used, and who can use them?

This is the part where you sell your research. But then, a word of caution:

  • what went wrong?
  • what should we keep in mind as we buy into your findings? how do the limitations of your study affect the results? (this is, indeed, the Limitations section)

Think of the Discussion chapter as an executive summary. If it is the only thing I read, I should get a good understanding of what you found and why it matters. You should explain it to me clearly, in a narrative, without restating your results.

And now that we are so close, I might as well address the Conclusion chapter. It should accomplish 2 things:

  1. Summary of the entire project – this can be an extended abstract. What you set out to do (purpose of research), what you did (methods) and what you found out (main results).
  2. Directions for future research. I learned something great about this in a thesis defense yesterday. Think beyond replicating your study and overcoming your limitations. Think beyond better ways of addressing the same research questions. Now that we know what your research results are, what are other interesting questions we should address? What other issues and questions arise?

I’ve said this so many times in the past few weeks that I felt writing a blog post I can refer students to might be helpful. Please feel free to add your advice or questions in the comments below.

Happy discussing,

Dr. V

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