Digital Plan for Digital Action

It turns out that several people had some great suggestions about my wish for digital exam grading. I’ve decided to attempt it for my next Calculus exam, scheduled for Tuesday, March 26th. Here’s an outline of the plan:

  1. Photocopy exams single-sided and unstapled. Place a copy of each exam into an empty file folder.
  2. Subject unsuspecting Calculus students to grueling exam on these topics: Related Rates; Linear Approximation; Mean Value Theorem; Derivatives and Graphs.
  3. Alphabetize exams as they are turned in according to course roster. For absent students, place blank exam where theirs should be.
  4. Use department copy machine to scan all ~350 pages to a single PDF file and send it to me via e-mail.
  5. Thank my husband profusely for writing pdftk bash script that will take the single PDF file and break it apart, at every ~9th page, and rename the files according to last name (keeping alphabetical order in place). If this works, I should end up with 36 PDF files where each student has a file called “Owens-Calculus-Exam3.pdf” or something similar.
  6. Create Dropbox folders for the ungraded exam PDFs and the graded exam PDFs. Use GoodNotes to grade the exams on my iPad. Export the finished product back to Dropbox.
  7. Disseminate graded exams and grades to students.

It’s likely my first attempt at this will take longer than nondigital grading. One of the things I will have to do as I go is come up with “Correction JPGs” for those errors that happen most frequently and store them somewhere on Dropbox. I think these should be easy to add to each exam using the “import JPG” feature of GoodNotes. Usually I estimate that grading will take no longer than 10 minutes per exam. For my 36 calculus students, this means regular grading should take me about six hours. Hopefully this digital grading effort won’t take too much longer than this.

For Step 7, I also need to find out about FERPA. Provided I have a “sign for consent” on my exam header page, is that enough for it to be okay for me to e-mail each student her graded exam? Alternatively, is there a way using our Desire2Learn-Dropbox (on our Learning Management System) to return the exams to the students in some easy way?

Wish me luck!

8 thoughts on “Digital Plan for Digital Action

  1. Maria Andersen got really good at using technology in ways like this. She did a technology workshop in the summer for a number of years. She has changed jobs, so I’m guessing she’s not doing the workshop any longer. But she had great ways of doing these sorts of things. You might find some good ideas at her blog,

    • Thanks, Sue! I knew about Maria’s website and her ideas about digital grading from an article she wrote in the MAA Focus. (In my previous post, I linked to that article.) Hopefully my attempt at it will go smoothly!

  2. If some students missed the exam (altogether, I mean…I’m not sure if this is a problem at CofC, but it has been for me at Penn State, where students will proceed to stop doing anything relating to a class once they decide they want to drop it but don’t actually drop until the deadline), would that throw a wrench into the automated pdf splitting and renaming? I assume the script renames according to a roster file, but then you’d be off on names by each student who missed the exam, having to name the subsequent exams manually. I’d love to do this, but I’m not sure if this would cause too many complications.

    • Yes, this would be an issue. I just need to keep track of who was absent, and then put a blank exam where theirs should be prior to the PDF scanning. This shouldn’t be hard: If I make $n$ copies of the exam for $n$-many students, then I will already have the correct number of blank copies available. Since I’ll likely use a roster to help alphabetize the exams as they are turned in, I can also see who is missing & where their exam should go. Plus, I might as well send them an ungraded, blank copy, so they can use it for studying or just to see what they missed.

      • That makes sense. I realized after I posted that you could type up a “students who took the test” list for each test based on a sign-in sheet/makeup and use that.

  3. Also, I don’t think there are any FERPA related problems — emailing a student a graded pdf isn’t any different than handing back an exam to them in class. In some ways it might be preferable, from a privacy perspective.

    • From what I understand, our Academic Affairs office has “strongly suggested” we not distribute anything grade-related over e-mail, even with prior consent. So, this solution to the “hand back exams” question won’t work [here]. However, I have found a way to distribute graded exam PDFs through our Learning Management System in a way that will take fewer than $2n+5$ steps (where $n$ is the number of students). I think I can get it down to $n+1$ steps, which is roughly equivalent to the e-mail solution AND won’t get me into any FERPA issues. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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