Saturday, 9 November 2013

Grademark: does it make the grade? Verity Aiken

I used Grademark to mark essay work submitted by Foundation Year students enrolled on a Criminology Study Skills module. I wanted to mark work in an ‘electronic’ format as part of a growing professional interest in learning and teaching technologies and as part of a research action project contributing to a ‘Learning and Teaching with Technology’ postgraduate certificate. Grademark was an obvious choice because it was already integrated in the Keele Learning Environment (KLE) making it readily accessible. It also meant that support for using this technology was easily available from within the University.

I used Grademark for 13 students who were all asked to submit two essays each. The online submission was convenient and meant that I could mark the essays from home or at work without the worry of transporting papers around with me. Grademark itself was easy to use and it did not take long to feel at ease working with it. You can use their pre-prepared comment bank or develop your own. I decided to create my own as I wanted the feedback to be personal and to be able to draw out the things that I thought were important. I developed my own comments as I marked student essays. After the first few, marking became speedier as I was often able to drag and drop comments relating to generic issues. As a result, I spent more time writing detailed entries on specific points relating to the argument because I was spending less time on generic issues relating to structure and style. Grademark also has other functions. You can import your own assessment criteria and you can supply the student with general comments in either text or audio form. From my own experience, I can only pinpoint one disadvantage when using this technology to mark student work. Grademark is an overlay and this feels slightly different to actually writing on text. You can score over words and highlight sections and link a comment bubble to it, but it stops short of interacting fully with the text. I am used to boxing up bits of text and using arrows to signify issues to do with structure or position and I missed being able to get amongst the text to do this.

Students reported very positive experiences of using Grademark. They saw it as a convenient way of submitting their work that involved less stress and panic. They also believed that it made them more likely to engage with feedback, giving the rationale that online feedback was inescapable. In contrast, they viewed ‘collecting’ work from on-campus as something that was easily avoidable. Overwhelmingly, students liked the clear, legible and detailed comments that Grademark provided. They noted that printed text was easy to read and without ambiguity. They also liked that the fact that the comment bubbles using ‘hover text’ technology were not limited in length or detail by the size of the margins on the paper.

Overall, my experience of using Grademark was very positive. The students who received their feedback from Grademark also liked it and reported several benefits. The only noticeable drawback I experienced was how Grademark functions as an ‘overlay’ and how this sometimes feels like a barrier from being able to fully interact with the text. That said, I would use Grademark again and much prefer the freedom that this ‘paperless’ technology brings. So for me, at least, Grademark does make the grade.

Verity Aiken