UPDATE: I made the switch. It’s awesome.
I’m seriously entertaining the idea of having students submit papers to me by sharing a Google Document rather than my current model. I have 10 reasons why I think this is a good idea. But first let me describe the two models.
My Current Model
I grade papers electronically. Students submit papers to a dropbox. I download them, and then I type comments in the margins. After that, I email them back to the student (or upload them to a course management dropbox).
Students would write their paper in Google Docs (or some other Word Processor and paste a copy into a Google Document). Instead of uploading or emailing the paper, they would share the document with me. I’d write my comments/grade directly in the file they’ve shared with me.
Here’s are 10 reasons why I’m thinking about ditching the old electronic submission model in favor of a Google Docs submission model.
1. Avoids the Download Step
As it stands, I must download and organize all of the student submissions on my computer. There are ways to make this relatively quick and painless, but it still requires some extra admin time. It’s especially troubling if students submit papers with inappropriate file names or wrong file formats.
2. Avoids Word Processor Conflict
I give the students a list of file formats that I will accept, but I always end up getting a handful of papers that don’t meet this requirement. Sometimes I get a paper that is saved in the appropriate format, but it was written in some weird incarnation of word that doesn’t play nice with anything. This is a headache that Google Docs eliminates.
3. Reduce Student Anxiety
I asked students what they thought the biggest drawback was to electronic submission. By far the biggest fear is that the paper wasn’t submitted, but with Google Docs there will be no mystery. They can see if I have access to the paper or not in the “See Who Has Access” link in the Share tab.
4. No Failed-Attachment-Trick
Here’s a popular trick. A student sends an email and intentionally forgets to attach the file hoping that this will buy them sometime. This kind of trickery is more difficult with Google Docs. The paper gets written in Google and then all that is left to do is click “share” and enter the professors’ email address. There is no room for the plausible “I forgot to attach it” excuse.
5. Immediate Return to Students
Once you write in comments and slap on a grade, the paper is immediately available for the student. (They can even set up an email alert notice so that they get an email when changes to the paper are made.)
6. Avoids Return Time
This immediate return is great for the students, but it also has several benefits for the professor. If you email electronic papers back to students you have to set aside time to email each student. This adds up if you have 100+ students in a semester. With Google Docs, you can grade it and forget it. Once you grade the paper, it’s been handed back to the student for you.
7. Avoid Return Mix-ups
There is always a possibility (especially if students don’t label their files in the format you request) of accidentally attaching the wrong file in an email and giving some student the graded paper of another student. With the way Google Docs works, there is no attach file step that would introduce room for this kind of accident.
8. Avoid Double Submission Mix-up
A couple of times this semester, students have submitted a paper on to realize that they want to make some corrections. This will involve extra administrative time, and in some cases more serious mix-ups. Sometimes it’s not clear which paper is the second paper, especially if you batch download from a dropbox. With Google Docs students can make changes to the paper. And since Google Docs always tells you when the last changes were made (and tracks all revisions), you’ll know immediately if they’ve tried to do this after the deadline. So…they can make changes when it’s appropriate without submitting a new paper and this feature won’t make it easy to make those changes (without this being obvious) after the deadline.
9. Immediate Access to Student Papers on a Smartphone
Suppose a student stops you at the coffee shop on campus and wants to talk about their paper. You can access Google Docs from an Android smartphone (or an Iphone) and even the comments show up in the same color highlights. So, you can have a meeting about the paper right there.
10. Plagiarism Check
Have you ever suspected that a student might be submitting a paper to you that you’ve read before? One time I had students from different intro classes give me the same paper in the same semester. Google Docs gives you tons of storage and Google is also king of search. Search a few familiar passages from a student paper in Google Docs and it will bring up all papers with those passages. Since you have 7GB of storage you could over time check student papers against previous student papers from a few years back. We have capabilities like this already, but this method will be much more efficient.
11. 3 New Reasons [Update]
I made the Google Docs switch for JTerm to test it out. I loved it, and I discovered 3 new reasons. I outline them here.
So, I’m thinking it’s Google Docs all the way for student papers.
(NOTE: I had intended to include a discussion in this post about FERPA compliance, and something more specific about Fredonia, but this post is already a bit long. I think I’ll include a discussion about FERPA in my next blog post.)