2(2), February 1985, page 6

Marking Papers and Record Keeping for Apple Users

Robert Lucking
Old Dominion University

While the idea of using a word processor to mark students' papers seems to be gaining favor, the perfect tools for this practice have yet to emerge on the market. Bill Marling is still in negotiations, attempting to locate the appropriate format and distributor of the Grader (see Computers and Composition, November, 1983). In the meanwhile, a few articles on the use of word processors as marking tools have begun to appear (see "A Grading Technique Using Scripsit," TRS-80 Microcomputer News, May, 1983, and "Can Word Processing Replace the Red Pen," Electronic Education, September, 1984).

Most teachers of composition can spot weaknesses in students' papers very quickly; however, writing helpful comments, particularly at sufficient length to communicate to the student, becomes the time-consuming task. Those instructors who have begun using word processors in marking typically ask students to submit their writing on disk rather than paper, and the instructor reads from the screen rather than from hardcopy. Comments stored in one text file are then inserted into the student's file at the appropriate points.

Apple users who have an interest in this approach now have at their disposal a couple of tools helpful both for marking student papers and for storing descriptive, cumulative data on students' past writing efforts. APPLEWRITER II includes a glossary function that very easily lends itself to inserting comments into the student's text. The glossary can be composed of up to 99 separate entries which total no more than 2,048 characters. To insert a comment and a possible example, one must simply type CTRL-G and then the code letter for that comment or example. Additional terminal comments can be appended at will to the student's writing.

Marking papers in such a fashion allows students to revise easily since they can get a printout of their papers with the instructor's comments embedded into the text. They must only return to their original file and refine this earlier draft. However, an important dimension has been missing here. There has been no easy way of maintaining records of students' scores on a variety of writing skills and appending these results to each piece of writing. While traditionally students have had to attempt to remember their past deficiencies as they revised, the computer's storage capabilities immediately suggest a means of keeping running subscores on any number of measures of writing. Data base programs have been available for years, but using a separate program along with Applewriter requires a great deal of disk swapping.

When APPLEWORKS came on the market nearly a year ago, it seemed that the answer had arrived. APPLEWORKS combines a data base, a word processor, and a spreadsheet in one integrated package. Records from the data base could be inserted into a word processing document, or they could be appended to the end of a student's text. However, this program is not the panacea which it appeared to be. Alas, Apple trimmed features from each of APPLEWORKS three programs for purposes of saving memory, and no glossary was included in the word processor. Secondly, APPLEWORKS will accept only documents in the ProDOS format, not APPLEWRITER II's DOS 3.3.

However, two different options are available for those who wish to merge data base files with a text file. It is possible to mark students' writing in APPLEWRITER II using its glossary function and then convert these DOS 3.3 files to ProDOS which makes them compatible with APPLEWORKS. To convert files, one must only select the appropriate menu item from the ProDOS User's Disk. After this conversion, the data base files of the student's subscores can be appended to the marked text. An even more convenient approach is made possible with Apple's introduction of a ProDOS version of APPLEWRITER. These files are in the ProDOS format and are accessible directly to APPLEWORKS.

While I would like to claim that every teacher of composition has the perfect tool for marking papers and keeping students apprised of their progress on submeasures of their writing, such is not the case. However, Apple users who recognize the drift of technology and want to remain in its flow can learn much about writing instruction for the future by experimenting with available software.