I have a confession to make: I can’t stand Grademark. That means that this second article in my series on feedback methods will be somewhat less objective than the first, which was on Moodle’s PDF annotation. I’ve used both systems; PDF Annotation makes me go "Hmm", but Grademark makes me go "Ugh", despite its being a popular system that certainly looks good on paper (or rather, on screen). So rather than attempt to be objective, I shall here explore the reasons for this visceral reaction.
1. It’s part of Turnitin
I suspect some of my animosity toward Grademark is merely transferred from my animosity toward Turnitin. I don’t like Turnitin. I don’t like the look and feel of the program, and I don’t like the philsophy behind it. I’ve written a paper on plagiarism and why overt attempts to prevent it can actually encourage it, and using Turnitin as the main marking/feedback interface is as overt as you can get. (There are points to be made in running Turnitin or other plagiarism checkers in the background of a Moodle assignment, but that’s another topic altogether.) It’s almost like the feedback is just something that decorates the originality check.
2. It has a terrible UI
By "terrible", I don’t mean "ugly". Grademark, and Turnitin in general, don’t look that bad. They are not, however, easy on the user: the "fade to grey" colour scheme may be soothing for some, but I find that effect is negated by having to squint to make things out. It was a while before I found the box to search for students, the green settings icon is actually not for settings at all but for Peermark, and some other icons are so small you need to zoom your screen or have both good eyesight and fine mouse skills. Now maybe some of these things are configurable, but the fact that I haven’t yet found where to do this also speaks to the user-unfriendly nature of the UI. I could also go on about the horrendously convoluted procedure for attaching rubrics, but I won’t bore you.
3. People will set it up wrong
I have lost track of the number of times students have emailed me to say they couldn’t upload their assignments (or teachers emailed me because their students couldn’t). Nine times out of ten, it is because someone set up Turnitin so that students were not allowed to submit after the deadline, and the deadline had passed. To be fair, this and similar configuration problems are less of an issue if you set up Turnitin from within a Moodle assignment, but in a way that strengthens my point: Moodle has a good UI; Turnitin does not.
4. Quicknotes look the same, and often are the same
Quicknotes are a beloved feature of Turnitin and, credit where credit is due, they do make marking a little quicker, especially for slow typists. The problem is that they are all light blue rectangles with white text. Since I’ve been using colour coding for different error types since the days of email attachments (see part 1!) this strikes me as unnecessarily monochromatic — perhaps to go with Turnitin’s generally minimalistic palette. Again, there may be a way to tweak it, but I haven’t found it. More seriously, the strength of Quicknotes — that standard sets can be created and shared — makes it tempting to keep slapping the same notes on every essay. Admittedly, this is largely because students tend to make the same mistakes, but it’s all too easy to get into the habit of just dragging things across when it might be more useful to actually write something.
The Good Bits
Having got all that off my chest, I should, in the interests of fairness, mention the good points of Grademark. From an institutional point of view, the rubrics feature makes it easier to encourage or even impose standard grading criteria across a department and check that teachers are following them. Attaching the rubrics is a pain, but then it’s not exactly easy in Moodle either. Quicknotes can be shared easily, which is a feature sorely lacking in Moodle’s PDF Annotation feature. Finally, if you are already using Turnitin as a plagiarism checker, I suppose using Grademark for feedback means one less application to consider.
There is also a fair amount of evidence, both research-based and anecdotal, that teachers like Grademark. However, much of the research compares Grademark with paper grading, so it is less an endorsement of Grademark as such as an indication that many teachers prefer online feedback to paper feedback.
- Standardised, shareable rubrucs
- Shareable comments
- Fairly simple to use
- Being part of Turnitin places emphasis on plagiarism detection
- Possibly too easy to standardise
- User-unfriendly interface
Overall, as should be abundantly clear by now, I don’t like Grademark. However, if Turnitin is already in use, and particualrly if there is no LMS that provides an alternative feedback mechanism, it may be worth using.
In the next article, I’ll go old-school and look at feedback files.