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Project Proposal: Grademark Knock-off

Hi All,

First, I want to thank everyone for the great insights into my after class ramble on facebook.

For some time now I have been moving towards a more digital classroom, and in the past two years – within the exception of handwritten work -all major essays are sent to me electronically. More often than not, the files are posted on TurnItin. I then download these files and correct them using Word Track Changes. There is obviously nothing revolutionary about this. Yet, as I kept doing the exact same thing over and over again, e.g. inserting a rubric, saving the file to a different name and directory, inserting standard comments, I realized I could cut down on my grading time by writing macros to handle these basic tasks. Within a very short period of time I had around 15 macros for various edits and changes to the student document. Not only did this reduce my workload, it also provided students with more consistent and elaborate feedback. After all, I don’t have to type anything I just have to press a button.

Still, as some of you may know, the macro feature on Word is a fickle mistress at best. I soon discovered this when macros started conflicting with the normal.dotm template. Furthermore, since there are a limited number of icons that you can select for each function, it soon became confusing for me to figure out what was what. Thus, I arrived at the idea to create my own app for editing Text documents. World enough and time, I would have done this over the past year, but my pesky dissertation got in the way. Therefore, I have decided to use this class to develop that app.

Now, Turnitin does have its own proprietary software available called Grademark, which I used while at Kingsborough. Unfortunately, it’s clunky and counterintuitive. Also, it features such stellar autocomments as, “Awkward, consider revising.” More practically, Hunter does not offer Grademark.

Although I used to program in C++, I’ve decided to switch to VB because it’s relatively easy to manipulate Word documents in VB. In principle, there shouldn’t be any difference between C++ and VB, but most of the documentation on how to do this is for VB. Also, I have forgotten most of the C++ I learned so long ago, so it doesn’t really matter. If there is any reason why I should consider another language say, C#, any advice would be much appreciated. At this point I’ve accepted that I’m going to have a new vocabulary anyway, so the language doesn’t matter.

On another note, I briefly pondered simply making a ribbon add-in for Word. This would be more  seamless in terms of the actual text editing, but it would not allow the user to generate automatic rubrics very easily. More problematically, it would mean running macros in Word, which in my experience leads to problems and conflicts. Perhaps I’m wrong.

At any rate, I’ve spent a couple of hours tinkering with my newly downloaded Microsoft Visual Studio Express SDK, and I came up with a small app that gives a fraction of an idea of what I intend to do. Here is a screen shot.

It’s very bland as you can see. I didn’t really see a point in jazzing it up without anything working. Right now, it simply creates a pre-formatted word document. I would post the app, but WordPress is preventing me from uploading an anonymous *.exe. Not much of a surprise there.

I hope this gives you some idea of what I’m aiming for though.

Posted in Project Concepts.

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One Response

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  1. Christopher Stein says

    You said it pretty succinctly, reduce workload and provide students with more consistent, elaborate feedback. This is good. One thing to ponder a bit is how you might leverage those two improvements. Does it mean that you can have them do more drafts or more low stakes writing or something else (other than better feedback) to improve their learning.

    Essentially it’s rubric grading software. It seems like it would be applicable to anything that was graded by a rubric (yes?). You mentioned that what you showed is a fraction of the idea but didn’t say much more about what the missing fraction is. Can you shed some more light on that. What functionality are you planning on implementing? From your other comments I would guess that it will allow you to create custom responses that can then be easily pasted into the comments for each student as needed, and probably also calculate the grade. There’s a lot that could be done here. To avoid reaching for too much it would be nice to see a short list of the most important features.

    For now is it just your students? Obviously this would have utility beyond your classroom, but for the current project who will be involved?

    This is a desktop application. To play devil’s advocate is there a reason you chose to do it as a desktop application and not an online one? As far as I can tell the grading software you’re making is separate from the paper that is turned in (since you decided against the Word add-on) so that frees you up to develop where you want. What are the benefits of doing it on the desktop vs online?

    If you are going to do it as a desktop application then Visual Studio is a robust, fast development environment. One option in the MS family you might look at is Access. This would allow you to easily store the information in a database and you can still output a Word document if you want to give students their feedback in that way. Excel is also an option along that route. It’s been a while since I developed for MS Office so take the advice with a grain of salt. I might suggest a trip to Barnes & Noble or somewhere with a lot of VB books and looking through what kind of solutions they have in them.

    And as mentioned above, at least consider doing it online too.

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