Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A rod for my own back

Sisyphus For the last few weeks our first year Biological Sciences students (n ~250) have been using Google Documents to write group reports on a biological topic of their choosing. We've been using Google Docs on our first year key skills module for several years now. It was originally introduced to Smash The State! Sock it to the Man! persuade students of the value of social software, but it was only this year I figured out how dumb I'd been in asking them to write individual documents when I could save myself tons of work by getting them to work in groups using the social features Google Docs provides.

Or could I?

Except for a few squabbles, the writing part went fairly smoothly. The Turnitin originality reports are OK, apart from a few bad habits we use Turnitin as a tool to flag up. So it was time to start marking. Which is hell. Why? Because abandoning a simple bigbox VLE has its costs. Here's my workflow:

1. Copy group allocations from Excel (used to randomize assignment to groups of 4).

2. Check the Turnitin report for the group document. Take screenshots of relevant sections and annotate using Skitch. Paste into the Google Doc (because Blackboard 9 unhelpfully won't let me attach the PDFs to the feedback in the Gradecentre).

3. Mark the group report according to our criterion-referenced scheme using a BBEdit as a scratchpad. Add additional feedback comments as appropriate. (50% of overall mark)

4. Add overall feedback to the Google Doc. Add additional feedback comments at appropriate points in the Google Doc. Add comment about individual mark availability via the Bb9 Gradecentre.

5. Check the revision history of the Google Doc to assess individual contributions, mostly by weight but with an eye to quality too. Look out for last minute Roberts (yes Michelle, they are all Roberts). Add feedback about timeliness of groupwork contributions where appropriate! As ever, the document revision history is a telling account of how well the exercise went for each group. (Other 50% of overall mark)

6. Calculate total, paste overall mark, component marks and group plus individual feedback assembled in BBEdit into Bb9 Gradecentre for each student in the group.

7. Send notification email via the Google Doc to group members informing them that their marks/feedback are available on the Google Doc/Blackboard.

8. Goto 1.

Ugly, innit? But I can't think of any way to speed this up without loosing the feedback quality. I thought about using Excel conditional IF statements to semi-automate report writing as I used to do in the pre-Blackboard days, but that's not really the pinch point, it's dodging between the various apps and annotating the Google Doc in the right places which consumes the time.

No way I'm marking 60+ reports next year. Now I've trialled the process I'll have to parcel out the marking to colleagues, with all the attendant problems of consistency that that entails. Point to note: this exercise is staying in. I think it's valuable for the students. Apart from the knee-jerk moaning, the feedback comments have been surprisingly positive. It's my problem, not theirs.