Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Digitally evaluating written work

There are a number of tools that facilitate and streamline the process of collecting, evaluating, and returning student writing, including Canvas and Turnitin. Remember, though, that you will still need to determine appropriate learning objectives for your student population, design meaningful assignments, and establish fair yet challenging performance criteria. Below we list several goals that align with using these tools.

These tools have features that help...




Collect ungraded assignments easily x x x
Keep track of multiple drafts of an assignment x x
Return graded assignments securely x x x
Provide readable feedback x x x
Explain feedback x x x
Identify possible plagiarism x
Help students learn to use sources responsibly x
Attach a rubric to an assisgnment x x
Grade students anonymously x x x (workaround)
Collect group submissions x x x

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While some faculty like to collect hard copies of student work, others prefer to collect and grade student assignments digitally. Digital collection mitigates the need to carry and manage stacks of student work, saves paper (unless faculty opt to print out student work) and permits faculty to set submission deadlines outside of class time.
Managing multiple drafts of student papers can be cumbersome. If instructors establish and enforce a logical and consistent system for naming files (e.g., Studentname.assignment#.version#), digital collection can simplify the process, and make it easier for instructors to compare early and later drafts side-by-side.
Handing back graded student work can consume valuable class time, and methods for returning them outside of class time (e.g., by leaving graded papers in a box outside your office) can be contrary to FERPA regulations protecting student privacy. Collecting and returning student work digitally allows you to streamline the process of returning graded work while also ensuring that it is secure.

Students cannot benefit from instructor feedback if they can't read it. Tools like TurnItIn's GradeMark feature make it possible for instructors to insert pre-written margin comments digitally or to type in their own margin or end comments. This ensures that the comments are legible, while reducing the time it takes instructors to write the same comment over and over on multiple papers. (Instructors should keep in mind, however, that "global" end comments with concrete suggestions for improvement are generally more helpful to students than a large number of "correction-oriented" margin comments.)

TurnItIn's GradeMark has pre-written comments that explain common instructor feedback (what it means to say the paper needs more supporting evidence or clearer topic sentences, what subject/pronoun agreement is, etc.) These explanations can help students understand the feedback they're receiving better, while not requiring instructors to write extensively.

Tools like TurnItIn's Originality Check and SafeAssign can automatically check students' written work against a database of student papers and/or web resources. These tools can identify whether there is a high percentage of unoriginal material in a student paper, and (depending on the tool) locate the original source. If students know you are using plagiarism detection tools, that can by itself deter plagiarism, though this can also be accomplished by designing assignments that require original thought and cannot be easily copied or bought.

Students often do not know how to paraphrase without appropriating another author's language. Instructors can help students learn the difference between appropriate paraphrasing and plagiarism by asking students to run their work through a plagiarism detection software (e.g., TurnItIn or SafeAssign) to assess its originality for themselves. Doing so can alert students to problems with paraphrasing and citation and help them correct (and, hopefully, learn from) their mistakes before they submit their work to the instructor.

If the exercise is properly structured, students can benefit from reading and critiquing one another's work. Peer review (also called peer evaluation or reader response) allows the writer to get feedback from multiple readers. It also encourages peer reviewers to become more reflective about their own writing. Digital tools like TurnItIn's PeerMark can help instructors manage the peer review process by helping them designate student evaluators and enable the sharing of papers, rubrics, and other evaluative tools.