Or: Why are We Getting Identical Comments?
I make it a point of reflecting on all of the end-of-course feedback commments that I get every term, to see if there is anything that I could/should be doing to improve the experience of students in my courses. One comment that I read this term has stuck with me for a few days now, causing me to think about the nature of the feedback that I give to my students, especially on paper writing assignments. I decided to write this blog post to share with future students because I don't think that the underlying issue relates to the quality of the feedback. Rather, I think my students deserve some clarification about how I go about the marking process and preparing their feedback, so that they can rest assured that I am not rushing, nor am I ignoring my obligation to provide them with customized individual feedback. The student commment in question was along the lines of:
"a lot of us got identical comments on our papers, so I'm wondering if he actually read them."
Well, the answer is an emphatic "yes!" I do read everyone's papers. And, I do provide customized feedback where needed! But, there is a reason why I often provide identical comments. After many years of grading research paper assignments, I have found myself commenting on a number of similar issues. I have compiled lists of ready-made comments to address those issues, to streamline my workflow. I have also spent a lot of time tweaking how I use a combination of Excel grading spreadsheets, and the mail merge feature in Word, to prepare rubrics with feedback comments for my students. I cover that process in the following video:
Since recording this video, I have further streamlined my grading and commenting process. Rather than just one column for "Comments" in my spreadsheet, I now have a column for comments on each of the main rubric categories. The reason why "a lot of us got identical comments" is because I use my list of ready-made comments for common issues to copy-paste the appropriate comments into each column. If there is something I need to provide more detailed feedback on for one student's paper, then I will prepare a new customized comment for that column for them!
Why Do I Do This?
It takes a lot of time to read through a batch of student papers. It can take much longer if I embed unique comments right into every paper, or draft new comments for each and every student -- time that could be better spent if a lot of the issues are the same. I try to "automate" as much of the process as I can so that my students can benefit from a quicker turnaround time for my feedback -- especially in shorter terms, or when they need that feedback in order to move on to the next stage in an ongoing project!
He Focuses Too Much on Formatting!
Another end-of-course survey respondant wondered why I focused so much on formatting issues in my feedback, rather than focusing on the content itself. Well, that couldn't be further from the truth... but I don't blame the student for getting that impression! That's because in addition to my general feedback rubric with the comments described above, I also provide each student with a 3-page checklist of general formatting, APA v7 formatting, and document accessibility issues noted in their submissions. I cover the reasons and the process for that, and provide ready-made templates that anyone can adapt for their own grading, in my blog post Adding Accessibility to Student Feedback.
Long story short on this one -- I use another Excel spreadsheet to record an "X" in any column for formatting issues that applies for a student's paper, and then use Word and mail merge to "spit out" the checklists for the entire class with one click of a button. So, I don't actually pay more attention to formatting than to content when grading student's papers. Instead, I review the document once for formatting issues, check them off, and then go back and read the paper in detail. This allows me so avoid the "red pen fatigue" of highlighting or commenting on these formatting issues as I go through the paper (and writing the same comments multiple times across multiple papers). It also allows me to focus exclusively on the content during that second read through!
Just because I'm using the same ready-made comments for a lot of the feedback I provide on students' papers doesn't mean that I'm ignoring individualized feedback. It actually means that I'm streamlining my processes so that I don't waste my time writing new comments where you don't really need them. This allows me to customize feedback for just the areas where there are things that you could tweak in your projects, and get that feedback to you as quickly as possible!
Power, R. (2020, February 6). Automating Feedback Rubrics Using Spreadsheets and Mail Merge. [video]. https://youtu.be/in0gx1iTTNc
Power, R. (2022, February 16). Adding Accessibility to Student Feedback. [Web log post]. Power Learning Solutions. https://www.powerlearningsolutions.com/blog/adding-accessibility-to-student-feedback
Rob Power, EdD, is an Assistant Professor of Education, an instructional developer, and educational technology, mLearning, and open, blended, and distributed learning specialist.
Older Posts from the xPat_Letters Blog