We recently asked four faculty from a wide-range of departments the question “How do you use Gradescope?” Gradescope, a feedback and assessment tool, promises to reduce time associated with the process of grading exams, homework, and other assignments. However, we wanted to get the inside scoop on how faculty at UC Davis are leveraging Gradescope in their classes to reenvision the grading process. Overall, faculty noted Gradescope allowed them to:
- Use and modify the rubric to improve fairness
- Provide clearer feedback for students
- Manage multiple TAs and calibrate grading
- Save time
- Streamline the grading process in very large classes
- Evaluate and improve exam design
Read on to hear more about how these four faculty use Gradescope in their own classes.
Managing Editor of The Wheel
Dave Doty, Computer Science
I use Gradescope for two separate purposes: 1) to grade paper-based in-lecture exams and quizzes along with my TAs, and 2) to automatically grade some homework so students get real-time feedback.
Gradescope makes it much easier to grade exams in a distributed way, i.e., not everyone needs to be in the same room. This is partially because the exams are graded online, so there is no need to coordinate passing paper exams between TAs. But the more fundamental reason is that Gradescope’s tool for creating and modifying rubrics during grading vastly lowers the barrier to setting up a consistent, fair, and (in most cases) simple-to-apply rubric. This means that multiple TAs can grade the same problem with less worry about some grading more harshly than the others, and with fewer exams requiring that the TA ask the instructor how to proceed. Nevertheless, I find it’s best to start grading as a group in the same room. We go through a few dozen exams to develop and hammer out the kinks in the rubric, after which the rubric is mostly complete, in the sense that the rubric items we’ve added are enough to describe what’s wrong with most new exams we encounter. After that point, I find it safe to send everyone home and say “get done grading by the end of the week,” and even for exams with complex mathematical questions, the TAs know exactly how to complete grading. The ease of modifying the rubric on-the-fly has greatly improved the fairness and consistency of our grading, and greatly improved the feedback we are able to give the students.
The second feature of Gradescope they call “programming assignments,” since it is intended to grade computer programming projects, by automatically running the programs written by the students and checking that the output matches what is expected. However, I’ve hacked it quite a bit to enable me to grade any sort of homework problem where the answer can be written as text and automatically graded. An example would be asking the student “What’s the derivative of 2x^3 + 7x?” and checking that the answer looks something like “6x^2 + 7”. I use this to assign *randomized* problems where each student gets a different question with a different correct answer, so they are allowed to freely share their answers and discuss with each other. Unfortunately Gradescope doesn’t directly support this yet, so it requires a bit of hacking, but I’m hoping they will support it more directly in the future, as well as allowing different types of solutions to be submitted (beyond just text files, e.g., multiple choice).
Greg Kuperberg, Mathematics
My interest in Gradescope is on behalf of the entire Math Department rather than just for my own use. Even just using its Web 2.0 grading environment rather than any of its AI-ish features, Gradescope fosters a grading rhythm to let you grade a test in a large class at least twice as quickly. Everyone can spend less time on the draining experience of grading exam stacks, and more time on anything else more fulfilling. Nearly every other aspect of testing is also improved better than paper grading, including monitoring grading progress, freedom to grade anywhere, rubric consistency, regrade requests, score statistics, exam security, and student privacy. It’s also better than Canvas Speedgrader for grading uploaded homework. Still, the largest issue for me is being considerate toward TAs.
Mark Verbitsky, Political Science
I’ve used Gradescope for exams in constitutional law and political theory. I don’t use Gradescope for multi-page essay questions, but it has been very useful for all my other types of questions (ranging from a few sentences to a full page of writing) as the rubrics allow for quick, clear grading. More generally, Gradescope has helped improve physical logistics, time management, and fairness in the grading process. Having the tests accessible online makes it much easier to coordinate with TAs and also to turn the exams back to students. Scanning the exams and creating rubrics takes time at the front end, but the grading afterwards is much faster, particularly as the rubrics can often provide clear feedback as to what was missing in an answer. In terms of fairness, there are several factors: for one, in large classes I used to give each TA a set number of exams to grade but now I get TAs to grade specific questions which makes sure that the grading is uniform; I can monitor grading at any point to calibrate the TAs and at the end, I can quickly adjust for overly difficult questions with the retroactive rubric modifications; finally, I’ll highlight the regrade feature which allows students to get clarification more readily on their grade and petition for legitimate corrections when errors were made.
Laci Gerhart-Barley, Evolution and Ecology
I use Gradescope to streamline the grading process in a large-enrollment class.
I primarily teach the large-enrollment introductory biology class Biosciences 2B, which sees average enrollment over 1,000 students per quarter. In a class this large, providing feedback to students on incorrect answers, returning exams, and even trading stacks of exams between graders become logistically time-consuming and complex. Gradescope streamlines every step of the process. Multiple graders can be working on the same exams at the same time in different places. Exams are returned electronically, without taking up class time to hand them back. Detailed feedback can be provided to students on incorrect answers via rubric items and individual notes without having to hand-write on each exam. Grades can be synced to Canvas with a couple of mouse clicks, instead of manually uploading total exam scores compiled from multiple spreadsheet columns tracking scantron points from multiple choice questions and hand-graded points from short-answer questions.
I use Gradescope to maintain consistency and fairness in grading.
Prior to grading an exam, the members of the grading team go through each question and discuss rubric items and their associated point values to ensure that the team views the grading structure as fair and easy to apply consistently across exams. The grading team also frequently discusses the pattern of correct and incorrect answers and potential adjustments to point values as grading commences. For instance, if, on a particular question, the vast majority of students are awarded the same high-deduction rubric item, we might consider reducing the point value of that deduction. A change of this type is as easy as changing the point value of the rubric item, which recalculates the grades for all students who have been awarded that item. The rubric items also allow multiple individuals to grade the same question with much higher consistency and fairness. Additionally, the feedback given to students via the rubric items and individual notes provide students with an understanding of why points were deducted from their answer, which has greatly reduced the number of regrade requests I receive on exams and provided evidence to students of consistency and fairness in our grading process.
I use Gradescope to evaluate and improve my exam questions and structure.
Gradescope provides two tools that I use to reflect on and improve upon the structure of my exams and questions. The first is the rubric items we use to grade the exams. The Gradescope statistics page shows a breakdown of average score for each question as well as the percentage of students who were awarded each rubric item for a given question. These statistics help me identify not only questions on which the students struggled, but also detailed information on how they struggled, including which components of the question and answer were most difficult or most misunderstood by the students. I use this information to guide how I teach the topics for which students most struggle, and to revise question wording to more clearly guide students through the expected answer. The second tool Gradescope provides are the question tags. Each question can be ‘tagged’ with multiple labels and the Gradescope statistics page reports student performance by tag. For instance, I tag each question with its structure (multiple choice, short answer, math etc.) as well as its topic (resource acquisition, natural selection, etc.) and its associated course learning objective. I can then see if there are particular topics, question styles, or learning objectives that are more difficult for students. Tagging is how I discovered that some course learning objectives were overrepresented on my exams while others were underrepresented; a fact I have worked to rectify this quarter. When I restructured the discussion sessions into ‘flipped’ active learning activities, I tagged questions associated with the discussion topics to track student understanding under this new class format. This quarter, I also plan to tag each question with its Bloom level to ensure I am testing students at appropriate levels and with an appropriate variety in question difficulty.