How best to comment on student papers is a perennial problem. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education last month entitled “Why I Don’t Use Track Changes on Students’ Papers” by Lucy Ferris caught my eye, mostly because I found myself disagreeing with lots of Ferris’s assertions. I thought it might be an interesting topic to start off the 2015 “Teaching Matters” discussion.
Ferris explains why she insists that her students submit hard copies of their papers for her grading and comments. Her arguments against using “track changes” to comment on electronic papers have some validity:
- She isn’t as tempted to correct small grammar and style issues, and when she does students can’t just click “accept” and make the correction without knowing why.
- Even with minimal corrections and inserted comments, the paper ends up looking, as she put it, “like a Jackson Pollock painting of colors, squiggly lines, and call-outs, a discouraging mess for the student to untangle and sort out.”
- It’s harder to encourage students by doing things like drawing arrows to link well-argued points and encourage students with a big “GREAT!!” circled and connected to those points.
- Students tend to read the comment point by point and can’t spread out the paper and get an overview of the whole.
I do agree, though, that using “track changes” to cross out students’ words and insert teachers’ words is not a good practice. We don’t want to appropriate our students’ papers or their language. I usually put my grammar or style corrections in a side comment, hoping that it seems more respectful that way, sometimes using highlighting to point out a pattern of similar grammar issues after explaining it the first time.
What do you think? Do you require hard copy or electronic submissions from your students? Do you use “track changes” when you grade? If so, how? If not, why not? What works well for you and the students in your classes?