Reduce Grading Time and Enhance Learning

It seems like an oxymoron. Doesn’t grading time directly improve student learning? Well yes, and it depends. 

Here’s a comment posted by a university professor on a higher education social media page:

“A mix of exhaustion and exasperation: I have graded English 101 essays forever this semester...once a week with about 80 students total. Any ideas on how to grade more effectively without burnout.” 

The sentiment shared in this comment is one many professors relate to. When grading feels unsustainable or ineffective, it likely is. To solve these issues, we need to consider grading and assessment differently. How can we involve students in the process, so they receive the benefits of the engagement and critical thinking involved in evaluating work and the instructor has time and space to mentor and coach students? Below, we explore common issues related to traditional assessment and grading methods and how peer learning can improve the teaching and learning experience for students and professor alike.

What are the issues and more importantly, the solutions:

Kritik professors choose to use the Kritik platform for various reasons: to increase student interaction, improve student engagement, and incorporate performance-based learning. Out of all these benefits, the commonality is that each professor is seeking a more effective and efficient way to deliver feedback and progress student learning. That is the key aspect of the proposition of Kritik. 

Not every professor, or teaching and learning case is the same, but there are a few common issues that emerge with traditional forms of assessment and grading.

  1. Grading load directly impacts the depth and consistency of feedback

The quantity and quality of the feedback are co-related. If a professor sits down to mark 100 papers, the quality of feedback will be stronger on the ones conducted at the start where thinking is fresh, and energy levels are consistent, compared to the ones at the end of the pile. 

Of course, spreading out the grading load over multiple days can help mitigate this, but this also results in students not receiving timely feedback to apply their learning and improve on the next activities. We surveyed Kritik professors across a range of disciplines and asked them, before using Kritik, how long it took on average to deliver feedback to students. On average, without Kritik, professors returned feedback after 7-10 days. 

Peer learning with Kritik eliminates this delay, meaning that once students complete the evaluation stage, providing feedback to their peers, they immediately receive a minimum of 3 points of feedback each activity to improve their understanding, approach, and learning moving forward. This is because, for each activity in Kritik, professors assign 3 or more evaluators. While students provide feedback to one another, the professor observes and monitors the quality of work and provides additional feedback to correct, enhance or extend the learning.

Beyond the timeliness of feedback with peer learning, the structure helps ensure the quality is maintained and in some cases leads to better feedback than the professor could provide on their own. In fact, Dr. Amelia Sofjan from the University of Houston reflected on this point as a guest speaker at a recent workshop. 

“[Kritik] made me reflect on my own feedback and I realized that I have a lot to learn from the way students give feedback. If I had to rate my own feedback based on the critical and motivational scale Kritik uses, I would score really high on the critical scale but probably not so high on the motivational scale, so I was learning from the students that in order for somebody to really take your feedback seriously, it can’t just be critical, but it has to be given in such as way that it motivates them and that’s pretty amazing.” - Amelia Sofjan, Department of Pharmacy, University of Houston

  1. Grading load directly impacts activity options

Here’s a situation: You are a professor teaching an economics class with over 1000 students. You are deciding what activities to incorporate into your course and can’t ignore the fact that for every activity you and or your TA’s will have to provide feedback on 1000 pieces of work. How does this impact the activities you select? Is this decision based primarily on what’s best for student learning or primarily based on the resources available and the traditional approach to assessment?

Whether you teach 100 students or 1000, this is a reality for course creation. If the feedback and evaluations are coming solely from professors and TAs, they need to be able to handle the amount of work being submitted to them. 

In the case of Dr. Alex Gainer, professor of Economics at the University of Alberta, this was very much the case with his intro level course of 1700 students. Dr. Gainer turned to Kritik, and with their  system of peer learning, he was able to not only increase the number of personalized feedback students received, but he was able to incorporate team-based learning with peer learning. 

In one semester, Dr. Gainer used Kritik to manage 435 groups of students, with 3 or 4 students per group across 5 activities. For each activity, each student evaluated 5 of their peers’ work. This means that over the course of one semester, not including the feedback directly from Dr. Gainer, Kritik provided the means to facilitate over 42,000 points of peer feedback.

All of a sudden, Dr. Gainer was not limited based on how many students he taught in a given semester. He could be more innovative and creative with his teaching practice and even provide the opportunity for his students to experience group work within a large class size.

“I was quite surprised at how vigilant my students were in evaluating each other, and how serious they are towards Kritik. Students seem to enjoy the personalized feedback that they receive, and they are getting better and better at using Kritik as the term progresses.” Dr. Alex Gainer, Department of Economics, University of Alberta
  1. Without peer learning, the professor becomes the gatekeeper for all feedback 

The professor is the topic expert. There’s no replacing their impact on student learning, however, it’s important to recognize the value of the inputs of the students themselves. They may not be the experts yet, but they are capable of thinking critically about a topic, following the guidance of a rubric and sharing their unique perspectives and insights to improve their peers’ work. 

Diverse perspectives are an important component of student learning that develops critical thinking and soft skills. The process of peer learning, while teaching students the value of multiple points of feedback, also empowers the professor to have the time to coach and mentor students on a more individualized level. 

With peer learning, 100% of feedback doesn’t flow to and from the professor. Dr. Charles Reigeluth, author and educational researcher whose work has paved the way forward for high-quality personalized competency-based learning (PCBL) outlines how the instructor as guide fulfills many roles, including mentor, instructional designer, facilitator and learner. 

With Kritik, professors can focus their time and energy not on rushing to grade every single paper in time for the next activity to be launched, but on the areas that have the highest impact on student learning. 

For example, Dr. Kelly Morse, English professor out of Old Dominion University, identifies gaps in knowledge and understanding of her students by reading the creations and evaluations and by observing the insights and metrics provided by the Kritik platform. One solution that has worked well for Dr. Morse is to model proper evaluations for her students in class as well as spotlight strong creations and evaluations directly in Kritik. 

“As some students become stronger graders, those students get consistently redistributed throughout each activity. Not only do they see through the gamified system that they’re becoming better reviewers, everyone is benefiting from the strong reviewers and everyone is helping the weaker reviewers who are learning.” - Kelly Morse, Department of English, Old Dominion University

For Professor Lyzzie Golliher from Old Dominion University, she found it helpful to use Kritik as a way to observe her students’ “conversations with one another and while you can do it to some extent in the classroom by breaking students off into group discussions, seeing their actual feedback in Kritik has allowed me to adapt a lot of my lesson it’s been really helpful.”

Additionally, Professor Golliher recognized the value of including students in the feedback process: “It’s really positive because...we know that when [students] start to interact you know they’re not just learning from you as a professor, the possibilities increase and they’re able to get a lot more benefit.” - Lyzzie Golliher, Department of English, Old Dominion University

For professors looking for a more effective and efficient way to achieve student success and guide student learning there are solutions in peer learning. 

Connect with us at Kritik to learn more about how you can incorporate peer learning and learn from the diverse experiences of previous Kritik professors.

Justin DeMarchi
Content Marketer and Education Consultant