Streamlining Grading toward Better Feedback

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Streamlining Grading toward Better Feedback

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Title: Streamlining Grading toward Better Feedback
Author: Malan, David J.; MacWilliam, Thomas Matthew

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Citation: MacWilliam, Tommy and David J. Malan. Streamlining grading toward better feedback. 18th Annual ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education, July 13, 2013, Canturbury, England, UK.
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Abstract: CS50 is Harvard University's introductory course aimed at majors and non-majors alike. Each week, students complete programming assignments and have traditionally received feedback from staff in the form of comments on PDFs of their code. Staff have historically reported spending significant amounts of time grading because of bottlenecks that included generating PDF documents and manually emailing feedback to students. Because we preferred that staff spend less of their time on grading logistics and more time providing feedback and helping students online or in person, we set out to improve the efficiency of the grading process. In Fall 2012, we developed and deployed CS50 Submit, a web-based utility through which staff can leave feedback for students via inline "sticky notes." Following the introduction of CS50 Submit, staff reported grading for 10% fewer hours (i.e., 42 minutes) per week and 13% fewer minutes (i.e., 4 minutes) per student, even while providing as much or more feedback. Meanwhile, we observed significantly higher levels of engagement with the course's online discussion board among staff, suggesting a more favorable distribution of staff workload. With CS50 Submit, we have also been able to audit exactly how much time staff spent grading each week in order to identify additional bottlenecks. Using CS50 Submit, we also observed that, on average, 9% of students each week never read their graders' comments, with a peak one week of 14%. The number of students who did not read feedback increased with time, which has led us to question whether asynchronous, textual comments are the most effective feedback mechanisms for students. In future terms, we plan to experiment with in-person, interactive means of delivering feedback to students. In this paper, we present CS50 Submit and the insights it has yielded into the behavior of students and staff alike.
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