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235 Downloads and 2,820 Clicks Per Semester

posted: 3.20.13 by Nedra Reynolds

For the 47th time in the past two weeks, I have typed this sentence into the comment box on Sakai >
Assignments:  “Please see my comments on the copy I’ve attached below.”

I’m tired of typing that sentence.

By the end of the semester, I will have typed it approximately 188 times along with onscreen-clicking at least 12 times per submission.  Is this the best use of my time?  Come to think of it, is the entire rigmarole that I go through to accept electronic texts the most efficient way of responding to student writing? (Okay, maybe there’s no efficient way . . . ) Collecting paper documents and writing in the margins with a pen is looking better to me lately—at least until I remember that my backpack was more stuffed; and that all those pages transmitted germs, absorbed cigarette smoke, and got wet, walked on by the dog, or stained by a teacup.

But lately, when commenting on student writing, I’m a little struck by the clunkiness of my routine and keep wondering if there isn’t a better way.  First, I open an assignment on Sakai, including the directions and expectations and due dates.  Students upload a copy of their draft, usually created in MS Word or the open source version of Word.  When it’s time for me to read it and make comments, I have to download the file, open it in Word, and use Track Changes. (Except, of course, when a student uploads a PDF file, in which case I open Adobe Pro and use sticky notes.)

At this point, Track Changes is familiar to me and I find it effective for giving marginal comments as well as for making some intertextual edits.  My comments in the right margin are in color, dated, and numbered.  If I can’t help myself and want to add a comma or leave a brief note right next to a problematic internal citation, for example, those edits show up in a different color, and a vertical mark in the left margin signals to the reader that something has been changed.

For me to get going on a new piece of writing, I need to click “Review” and also click the toggle button on Track Changes to ON.  When I’m finished, I then have to save the new version, and since students rarely remember to use their names for the file that they upload, I end up changing “final draft” to “Sara W_490_analysis” or something that helps me identify it among the 40+ others in my Downloads folder.  Then I need to go to Sakai > Assignments, choose the correct Assignment among several, click on Sara W, and complete a series of at least seven steps to return her writing to her, including typing out “Please see my comments on the copy I’ve attached below”!

Is this just me?  Am I being completely thick about shortcuts, or does this seem like a lot to go through 188+ times in a semester?  Is it Sakai, about which many of my colleagues complain relentlessly?   Or am I right that there are TOO MANY STEPS involved in this exchange of drafts?  I’d love to hear from Bits readers who either share my frustration or who have conquered this problem.

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One Response to “235 Downloads and 2,820 Clicks Per Semester”

  1. Bruce Clary Says:

    If you’re willing to (1) step beyond the bounds of Sakai and (2) spend some time developing a file management system, Google Docs offers a less tortuous routine for responding to electronic texts. You never have to make accommodations for various file formats, and with one click you are ready to edit and comment. Google Docs automatically keeps track of document revisions (which can be very revealing of the student’s writing process) and by default the document is ready for comments—no need to turn on Tracking. I create an Assignments folder that is shared with the entire class where I post detailed instructions for each assignment; students create a Submit folder that they share with me where they put all their completed assignments. I then organize every student’s submit folder in a class folder. In one folder, I have every assignment by every student accessible with two clicks. If you can train students to use a file naming protocol, you can easily have all the assignments in their Submit folder display in sequence, making them easy to locate. Best of all, Google Docs makes it super-easy for students to share documents for peer editing and workshopping. I have found using Google Docs far less painful than accepting electronic documents by email or LMS submission.