Nicole Chong, left, and Michele Vollmer, right in a split screen image.

Nicole Chong, left, and Michele Vollmer, right.

Two Dickinson School of Law legal writing professors were involved in a pilot this year of one of the two new assessment features now available to the Penn State community as part of the web-based plagiarism detection and prevention system Turnitin. As part of the pilot, the professors used Turnitin’s GradeMark, which offers faculty an online, paperless option for grading student papers, including a way to add comments.

The two professors, Nicole Chong, director and professor of legal writing, and Michele R. Vollmer, associate professor of legal writing and director of Penn State Law’s Explore Law Program, mainly used the QuickMark and rubric features of GradeMark. QuickMark is a bank of commonly used or standard editing marks that instructors can utilize when editing and grading papers. The feature allows faculty to evaluate student work based on defined criteria and/or scales. GradeMark comes with a standard bank of QuickMarks that professors can use.  However, professors also can add their own QuickMarks to the bank that address issues relevant to their own area of teaching.

“We used GradeMark for critiquing and grading our students’ papers,” Chong said. “Professor Vollmer and I both teach legal writing at the law school, and each semester, we have students hand in several ungraded assignments that we critique as well as two complex, graded assignments.  We added significantly to the QuickMark bank that came with GradeMark so that we could use legal writing-specific comments.”

Chong said they were pleased to be part of the pilot program and also pleased that they had enough time to get GradeMark up and running before the first graded assignment. Both said that they instantly saw benefits from using GradeMark, especially the time-saving QuickMark. “The main benefit of the QuickMarks is that it’s far less time consuming for us to do our critique,” Vollmer said. “We teach first-year law students in the Legal Analysis, Research & Writing course, and students tend to make the same or similar mistakes. We were able to create a bank of comments that we can use in all papers.”

“We often have to add to and change the QuickMarks for the specific writing assignments that we’ve assigned to our students, but the QuickMarks save us time because we now have a common bank of comments that we provide semester after semester to the students,” Vollmer added.

Chong noted that the common bank of comments has benefits for students as well. “We were able to use QuickMarks for every student, which provided consistency for all students,” she said. “So students were getting similarly worded comments if they had the same analytical or writing problem.”

If they had students with particular writing issues, both Chong and Vollmer said they liked that they could customize the comments if they needed to for certain cases. This allowed them to be more thorough with their grading. “The QuickMarks in GradeMark allowed us to use standardized comments that we could reuse for every student, but also we were able to customize the comments if we needed to for a particular student,” Chong said. “So we had the best of both worlds.”

Both professors noted that students appreciate the feedback that GradeMark allows them to provide. “Students have said that the individualized feedback that we provide is extremely beneficial,” Vollmer said. “And GradeMark allows us to efficiently provide that individualized and thorough feedback.”

Along with QuickMark, Chong and Vollmer used the rubric feature of GradeMark, which allowed them to set up categories of assessment.  They gave those rubrics to students before they handed in the assignment, and then the completed rubrics were provided to students through GradeMark as part of their individualized feedback.

“By providing the rubrics before the assignment, students knew exactly what we were going to evaluate when we reviewed their work. So it was fair notice to students about what we were critiquing and grading,” Chong said. “Within GradeMark, we were able to set up the rubrics electronically, and those rubrics matched what we had given them beforehand. To use the rubrics, we clicked in the boxes based on how we categorized their performance on the various categories, which was a huge time saver.  All of our critique – both the comments and the rubrics – was within GradeMark. Everything was in one place, which was easy and convenient.”

The professors created their own rubrics and had their assistant upload them into GradeMark, something they found to be an easy process. They also could tweak the rubrics within GradeMark to meet grading needs. “I think the rubrics saved us time. They added consistency as well, similar to the QuickMarks,” Chong said. “We were able to tailor both the QuickMarks and rubrics for our writing assignments. So, that helped us to be more efficient and organized and to give the students a consistent set of comments, both in the individualized comments and in the rubrics.”

Vollmer added, “I think the beauty of GradeMark is that it not only saved us time, but also we didn’t have to sacrifice the amount of feedback we would have given students in the past. So, in other words, we gave as much feedback on papers as we did in the past, but in less time. Students got their feedback quicker, and they could study it for a longer period of time before they began to work on the next assignment.  Also, due to the simplicity and conciseness of QuickMarks, students can absorb and understand comments better.”

Both Vollmer and Chong said they will definitely continue to use GradeMark in the future. “We are hoping that now that all faculty members have access to GradeMark, more professors will use it since it’s such a great resource for grading papers,” Chong said.

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