Margaret Christian poses for camera

Margaret Christian is an associate professor of English at Penn State Lehigh Valley, where she has taught for 25 years.

A Penn State Lehigh Valley faculty member has been researching the value of paperless grading tools in her classes thanks to Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT). Margaret Christian, an associate professor of English, has explored the use of Turnitin GradeMark, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and Breevy for providing extensive feedback to her students.

Last year, Christian received a TLT faculty engagement grant for paperless grading, which she used in the spring and fall 2014 semesters. Christian said she and fellow faculty engagement grant recipient Karen Kackley-Dutt, instructor in biology at Penn State Lehigh Valley, will be presenting on their experiences during the course of the grant at the Teaching Professor Conference in Atlanta, Ga., this May.


According to the website, Turnitin GradeMark is a digital mark-up tool that gives instructors the ability to create their own custom sets of comments and grading marks, in addition to rubric scorecards, which allow for quick scoring of student papers. The rubrics will score the student’s assignment against scaled criteria that were created by the instructor or the University.

Christian, who has been using GradeMark since last February, said the one great thing about the tool is that it allows her students to go right to the paper feedback folder and view and respond to her feedback.

Before GradeMark, Christian said she used Audacity to record feedback for her students. She would create a separate audio file and a Microsoft Word file, with track changes, for each student, and upload the files to ANGEL. With each Word file, she would keep track of her comments through a numbered system, which corresponded to her comments on the audio file.

With GradeMark, there is no extra clicking for uploading feedback files, Christian said. Turnitin allows the instructor to save feedback in the same place the student uploaded the writing assignment, and there is an audio record function within the tool.

According to Christian, the rubric function is great as well. She had already developed rubrics for her assignments so she uploaded her own criteria into GradeMark, which reflected her own standards, along with the English department’s standards.

“It makes it very easy to grade; you don’t have to sit there and ponder, eh, is it a C or a C+?” Christian said. “Because you’ve quantified everything, and the students have a much clearer idea of where they need to focus their efforts.”

One disadvantage to GradeMark that Christian found was that it carried a learning curve for students. It took her students a couple of assignments to get used to the new interface, and some students who were not familiar with it got frustrated.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking

Dragon NaturallySpeaking is an annotation tool that allows instructors to quickly read and give feedback to student assignments. According to the software’s website, one high school history teacher decreased the time he spent grading papers by 40 percent upon using Dragon versus providing handwritten feedback.

Christian tried the paperless grading tool, but said it wasn’t fitting for her needs. As an instructor who likes to frame her ideas as she goes along, she found that she spoke too slowly for Dragon to really help with the time she took to grade assignments.

“I used it until I got kind of exasperated with it,” Christian said. “I tried it out over the course of a month, and then I thought, I have not yet gotten to the point where it’s faster to use this than it is it to type. So, probably, I’m not the target audience.”


According to Christian, it was just as fast for her to type her comments using Breevy as it was to have Dragon dictate her feedback. Breevy is a text expander tool that allows an instructor to type faster by way of abbreviations for long words and phrases, according to the software’s website.

“The nice thing about Breevy is that it was really easy to create your own abbreviations and to use their abbreviations,” Christian said. “The learning curve was not steep–you got instant gratification from Breevy.”

Christian said a big plus was that an instructor can use Breevy within Turnitin. Breevy is similar to the QuickMark feature of Turnitin and can be combined with it. According to Christian, she has not found any disadvantages or issues with using Breevy.

Future paperless grading plans

Currently, Christian is teaching an online Shakespeare class. Her students will be using the ANGEL Turnitin interface for their papers. In the future, Christian said she plans to continue using Turnitin in her courses, along with more of its features. She has yet to use the PeerMark feature, but might use it in a class that is more focused on the writing process.

“I had a really good experience,” Christian said. “I was intimidated at first, but it’s really nice for faculty members who don’t have technology as their first interest to have the assistance of a team, like Teaching and Learning with Technology and the instructional designers at our own campus.”

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One Response to Paperless grading experiences: Margaret Christian

  1. Andrea Nagar says:

    I saw you mentioned Breevy in the article as a tool to easily expand abbreviations into full text and it works great.

    I also wanted to point out something that is also very useful. The ability to create fill-in-the-blanks forms where instead of a piece of text, a form is displayed and the teacher can just fill in (or select) the missing fields, like the name of the student or other information. The result is a customized text.

    Just so you know we have developed a solution that does that, called PhraseExpander. You can learn more about this in an interview on the TeacherCast block at

    Hope this is helpful.

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