Teaching Hub

Details and Procedures: Returning Hand-Graded Exams Electronically

This post details the grading process described in “Scan and Deliver! Personalized Feedback in Large Classes.”

  1. We printed individual labels with each student’s name; on each label, the corresponding CWID was encoded in a Code 39 barcode. We used standard 1″ x 2 5/8″ addressing labels, 30 per page, for which MS Word has built-in templates. The barcode labels could be prepared entirely in Word using its barcode generating and mail merge features. The students’ data for the mail merge was extracted from a roster file, in our case a simple Excel file.
  2. We brought these pages of labels to the exam venue. Students were asked to collect their label and affix it to their exam before they turned it in. Although we were worried that this would cause slowdowns, in practice this step proved quite effective.
  3. Before starting the exam, students were also instructed to write their name on every page of the exam. This helped ensure that, once the exams were separated into stacks of loose leaves later on, each exam could still be reconstituted in case of accidental mixing.
  4. Exams were hand-graded, and a record of the grades was made in our gradebook, as usual.
  5. Staples were then removed from each exam, generating stacks of loose pages, which were then fed to a standard office copier-scanner machine equipped with a high speed automatic document feeder (ADF), in our case a Canon ImageRunner Most common high-volume copiers would have this functionality. Staple removal was the most tedious and time-consuming part of this process. We typically enlist the help of undergraduate work-study students for the unstapling and scanning work. For our typical 250-student class, with a typical 7-page exam, the resulting stack of 1,750 pages is scanned in 7-8 batches of ca. 200 pages each. Removing staples and scanning, the most time-consuming part of this process, is complete in 1-1.5 hours.
  6. The scanner generates high quality PDF files, which we combine into one single file using Adobe Acrobat (available at no cost through the UA campus license). We then split the scanned files that contained multiple exams using the software A-PDF Split and Scan (a license is ca. $50): this software recognizes the barcodes and uses them as bookmarks to split the large file into individual PDFs, each containing a single exam. These new files are named with the corresponding student’s CWID from the barcode. Starting from the software’s defaults, some minor parameter optimization gave us excellent recognition.
  7. Finally, we used the mail merge function of a common desktop email client to automatically generate individual emails to each student and attaching the graded exam file. In particular, we used Mozilla Thunderbird with the MailMerge extension, but MS Outlook would be capable of achieving the same result. These emails could also be personalized; for instance, poorly performing students, or students whose score had significantly dropped from previous exams, were urged to come to office hours to discuss the exam. We also recognized excellent performance by including congratulations in the email. Such personalization can be automated based on the known exam score, but it is not necessary.

Dr. Marco Bonizzoni is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at UA. At the undergraduate level, he primarily teaches classes in the organic chemistry series. These are large-enrollment classes (150-320 students) taken by sophomore students with a wide variety of backgrounds in the STEM fields, biology, engineering, and chemistry being the most common.

Dr. Diana Leung is an Assistant Professor (NTRC) in the same department. She teaches general chemistry, organic chemistry, and general/organic/biological chemistry for nursing students, together with the attendant laboratory courses. All of these are large enrollment classes, but typically only those in the organic chemistry series include hand-graded exams.