I’m a big believer in pen and paper. Students should write on paper as often as possible. I resist the prediction that one day screens will replace paper. There are so many cognitive benefits to putting pen to paper for writing that the keyboard will never be able to compete with. But when it comes to assessing student work, especially essays, I am starting to see things differently.

One of the main reasons I am transitioning to grading student work on the computer is because I teach on a campus where no teacher has his or her own classroom. We all rotate. Some of us multiple times because our campus has more students than rooms. There are some arguments that can be made for this way of operating a school, but after teaching there for four years, I can attest that the biggest argument against this operation is losing papers.

When a teacher is misplacing and searching for papers regularly, that person is going to look for any way to reduce the stacks. So I transitioned to grading student essays through certain Google apps, and I really like the results.

Here are the 6 reasons you should grade student work electronically. 

Reason #1: Far Less Paper. How many times have you collected a pile of papers, loaded them into your car to grade at home, only to bring them back untouched? I have taken papers across state lines that were never touched. They were terrible travel companions too because they brought a spectre with them. They haunted me.

Having all the assignments accessible online is far better. When you want to look at them, you simply boot up. When you want the piles to go away, close the lid of your laptop. And you don’t have to come up with clever shipping techniques in order to haul them around with you.

Reason #2: Instant Organization. Unless you made the mistake of having students email you an attachment, most likely you are going to use some web application that can sort the student work for you. I use Google Classroom with my students, but not everyone has that capability (you should lobby for school or district to get a Google domain because it is incredible). If not, there is an add-on in Google Sheets called Doctopus that can help you. And if all else fails, use Google Forms and have students submit a link to their Google Doc in there. All student work will be alphabetized and waiting for you on a spreadsheet for you to click away from first to last.

Reason #3: Submissions Are Timestamped. As soon as students turn in their work, you are informed of exactly when it occurred. There is a timestamp, a record. No more meddling with a basket or a tray. You don’t have to wait in your classroom for a student who swears he will turn it in by 4 pm, but he just has to run home really quickly to grab it from the printer where he left it this morning (yeah, right). You also don’t have to worry about students putting the assignment in the wrong place either.

Reason #4: Pass Back Work and Keep it too! When you return papers to students, you don’t have to hand over the only copy that exists. You can both hand it back and keep it at the same time (kind of like having your cake and eating it too). There are a few factors to consider here. One, students have a harder time plagiarizing their classmates’ work because you still have it. Two, you have previous work samples so that you and the student can see the progress made. Three, on the occasion that a student’s parent wants to contest the grade, you have a copy of what was turned in, which removes any temptation for the student to engage in he-said-she-said.

Reason #5: Grade Anywhere. You are not tied to a physical location. You are free to “grade about.” If you get tired of the same old scenery, you can switch it up without having to stack up any papers. Even before my days of traveling from room to room, I would pull this prank on myself where I would take 10 papers from a stack and change locations to grade them. When I returned, I could never find the stack from which I took them. Electronic grading has allowed me to close the lid of my laptop, move, and then flip it open somewhere else to keep going.

Reason #6: More and More Tools Available. As more teachers are moving their grading practices from paper to the computer, there are more and more applications and programs becoming available to help. There is so much more out there than just a rubric, a red pen, and your wit. I have been able to link videos, made by someone else, to errors students were making. I have been able to send my students a voice recording of my final comments, which saved me a lot of time and energy. There are more and more options like this coming out every year. They are free and easy to use.

I understand if you have a certain ritual and you don’t want to change it. I changed because my circumstances changed. But consider those things that frustrate you about your grading process. Then do an online search and see if there isn’t a solution offered through grading electronically.

Which of the 6 reasons is most appealing to you? To what extent do you grade student work online? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below. If you know people who are looking for reasons to start grading online, share this post with them and on social media.

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