1(2), February 1984, page 5

[conclusion of Harris and Cheek article at top of this page]

Computer-Assisted Grading of Essays and Reports

Jack Jobst
Michigan Tech University

Someday computers may grade our students' essays and reports, but until then they can assist human graders in this onerous task. I wrote a program composed of three major sections: the first is a simple test editor for writing original comments; the second section consists of pre-written commentaries on common writing errors, principally in mechanics and organization; section three keeps track of bookkeeping. Questionnaire results show that students prefer this type of grading over traditional hand-written methods because it doesn't involve marks on their papers, and it produces more extensively detailed comments.

The program is similar to Bill Marling's GRADER and READER (see Vol. 1, No. 1 of this newsletter) in that it contains grammar information, bookkeeping help, and is written for the IBM-PC. One major difference is that the program isn't designed to work with student materials written on disk.

Students submit their essays and reports to the instructor in the traditional manner, except that they number each line of text in the margin of every page. When grading, the teacher places each assignment alongside the computer keyboard and types in the appropriate line number next to his or her comment. If the student writer makes a common error, such as using a semicolon rather than a colon, or confusing its with it's, the grader hits a key on the keyboard which brings up from memory a commentary on that particular error. The commentaries range from one sentence to several paragraphs in length. After completing the line-by-line comments, but before writing a summary, the grader pushes another button and the bookkeeping section of the program totals the numbers of errors and prints the appropriate page numbers from the class handbook. When the teacher assigns a grade, the program writes this to a disk, along with the total number of errors and final commentary. This may be recalled at a later date to note improvement and understanding of earlier comments. After grading the assignment the instructor may include a short quiz for the student on particular errors which occurred in the paper.

To produce the sense of a more personal response, the lengthier commentaries either include the student's name (placed at different locations within the paragraphs) or a specific identification of the student's error. For example, in the two-paragraph explanation on proper use of possessives, an example for singular possessive includes the student's name, as in "Mary's book." The commentary on repetition incorporates the repetitious word or phrase actually used by the student. The program accomplishes this by prompting the grader for the element after this particular commentary has been selected.

When the grading is completed, the program takes the information appearing on the screen and transfer it to a printer. The teacher than staples the resulting printed commentary to the front of the assignment for return to the student. When correcting their work, students match the line-numbered, printed comments to the lines in their assignments, determine the correct punctuation or requested change, then correct their work. This method of teaching mechanics and paragraph organization promotes a higher degree of student involvement, offers detailed commentaries, and should be particularly effective since it involves the student's own writing.

I have not yet produced a version available for distribution, but would if enough interest develops.