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Teaching with Duke's CCP Materials - Handling and Grading Student Work

Stephanie Fitchett

For an instructor integrating computer algebra assignments for the first time, the mechanics of file submission and grading can be somewhat daunting, so I would like to address these briefly. At Duke University, students were given accounts on the department's UNIX system, so they saved their files in their personal accounts and e-mailed them to me as attachments. At FAU Honors College, students use a WindowsNT lab, where they have no assigned disk space and must save their files to floppies. Either system works, though there are definite advantages to not having to deal with floppy disks.

I generally have students submit their Maple worksheets by e-mail, and I filter them into a separate mail folder so I can easily keep track of them. I grade them electronically, opening the files, adding comments and a grade in color, then returning the graded file to both contributors, again by e-mail. A few students at the Honors College submit their files on a disk, in which case I save the graded copy of the file to the same disk and return it. While handling the files takes time, it has not been overly taxing. For example, my linear algebra class had 28 students, and each week I got 14 files that I could grade and manage in about two hours. My strategy has been to skim the body of the worksheet, then carefully read the responses to the summary questions, all of which can be done quickly. The more time-consuming aspects are managing the files (saving, sorting, sending) and carefully reviewing material in the body of the worksheet when a summary response is incorrect.

One strategy that helps the grading go more quickly is to require students to write in complete sentences. The modules lead students through explorations and computations with Maple, and ask students to make observations and respond to specific questions along the way. I tell students that I will not refer to the questions in the module when grading their reports, so their responses must be complete sentences that provide context as well as answers. This forces them to articulate a complete thought, which facilitates the grading process for me. A satisfying side effect of the complete-sentence policy has been that students' ability to communicate their observations and explanations steadily improves as the semester continues, provided I give them feedback and suggestions, especially on the early assignments.

Stephanie Fitchett, "Teaching with Duke's CCP Materials - Handling and Grading Student Work," Convergence (November 2004)