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How-To Enhance Your Paper-Grading Workflow

All of us who require substantial writing in our classes know what a time-consuming process it is to provide meaningful feedback. Fortunately, if you collect students' writing in digital form, "there's an app for that": Adobe Acrobat, which Pepperdine's device management system should install and keep up-to-date on all university-owned computers. Here are a few ways that technology can help you provide feedback faster without sacrificing the quality of your feedback.

Seaver professor in his office

Utilizing Adobe Acrobat

If you accept or require digital submissions, you should clearly state in your syllabus or assignment instructions the range of formats you will accept. I recommend that you require PDF (Portable Document Format) files and return annotated work to students in that format. Students can easily produce PDF files from Microsoft Word or Apple's Pages—the two word processors they are most likely to use. Acrobat Reader is a free download for Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and Android, so students should have no difficulty reading your annotated PDFs. Thus, standardizing on exchange of PDF files in your digital grading workflow can bypass numerous issues in document conversion.

Assuming you use a grading rubric to evaluate student writing (and why wouldn't you?), you can save the rubric itself as a PDF and insert into a student-submitted file, presumably at the beginning or the end. You can then use Acrobat's built-in highlighting and commenting tools to annotate the rubric as well as the student's submissions. If you use a rubric where the rows and columns generate an overall point value, you can even have Acrobat do the math for you, though this requires a bit more familiarity with Acrobat's form tools.

Seaver professor with hand in the air

Adding Keystroke Expander

If you find yourself making very similar comments repeatedly on multiple students' papers, you can save considerable time by storing those comments in a permanent clipboard or keystroke expander. The very simplest way to do this is to keep a separate plain text file in which you record frequently-used comments. When you need one of these oft-used comments, just copy the desired comment from your text file and paste it into an Acrobat comment field. You can save even more time by using a keystroke expander, which allows you to define short codes that the software will convert to longer bits of text. For example, if you frequently write something like "Please go into more detail here," you could define "mdtl" to expand into the full sentence. I'm not sure about Windows, but if you use a Mac, you already have a text expander built into the operating system (System Preferences app, Keyboard pane, Text tab). You can get even more sophisticated with third-party keystroke expanders.

These are just a few of the ways that Adobe Acrobat can become a useful tool in your paper-grading workflow. If you're intrigued by these ideas but desire some additional help to get started (or to enhance your existing PDF grading workflow), consult the CTE or your division's tech liaison to help you take the next steps.