Teacher tips for more effective grading

Most teachers, including those like me who absolutely LOVE teaching, consider grading a chore. It is repetitive, and it takes a lot of time. Here are some tips I learned from Linda Nilson at Clemson University that can help make grading more effective:

1. Begin by sorting

Look over all the assignments quickly and sort them into categories such as: excellent, very good, OK, not so good, poor. Now that the harder decision is made, you can further save time if you:

2. Use a grading rubric

The more detailed your grading rubric, the less comments you have to write on assignments. All you have to do is highlight the category that applies. Just Google and learn how to create good grading rubrics. Even after providing feedback on a grading rubric, you feel you want to say more. In this case, consider doing the following:

Grading rubric

3. Provide collective feedback

Write a note to the entire class and provide overall feedback without identifying any individuals. You can structure it like this:

Overall, excellent assignments showed these features, and had these kinds of mistakes:…… (make lists).

Overall, assignments that did not meet expectations did these things well but had these kinds of mistakes: … (make lists).

4. Outsource the grading onto students

One brilliant tip I remember from Linda is a win-win situation. If an assignment has lots and lots of minor errors (e.g. typos), return the graded assignment to student but do not point out every minor error. Tell the student that if s/he identifies X number of errors, s/he can get X number of lost points back. This is a very good learning experience for the student, and saves the teacher time.

There are many other tips out there, but these are the ones I know that have helped me a lot. If you are interested in learning more from Linda, check out her book:

Teaching at its best – book

This last one is from me:

5. Trust your first instinct

Beginning teachers spend a LOT of time double-guessing their decisions. You think this assignment is a B+, then spend 45 minutes arguing with yourself, only to arrive at the same decision that it is a B+. Trust your first instinct. Be confident. You’re usually right. If you’re not, be on the student’s side and try to see how they can do better and earn a higher grade. Usually tip #1 above helps reduce agonizing time.

What other tips do you have that can make grading more effective?

PR students on learning Twitter

I place a lot of emphasis on Twitter in my PR courses, but were not sure whether that was such a good idea – from their perspective. So I asked my PR students from the Spring 09 Stakeholder Communication class to respond anonymously to a survey about learning twitter. Their answers are below:

Do you believe it was beneficial for you to learn how to use Twitter? Please explain why or why not.

  • – Yes. Twitter is a good example of a social media tool and the only way to truly know about these tools is to use them. It was good for us to use because it was not too demanding, yet still allowed us to get a feel for how these different tools work.
  • – Yes I do. There are many social norms and things about twitter that I learned from this class and I think its great to show a potential employer that I understand those things. I also think it was great to teach us to be active when you get on twitter because its annoying if you just get on and don’t do anything with it!
  • – Yes. I think that we kind of “jumped onto something” much earlier than a lot of other people. I think it was beneficial because it helped us learn how news can spread really quickly and network with others.
  • – I do believe it was beneficial to learn twitter, especially since it has become so prevalent in today’s society. People ask me what Twitter is and it eels good to know that I can explain it to them because I learned it through class. It’s becoming more and more mainstream everyday and I’ve enjoyed learning how to use it.
  • – Yes. I liked that I already knew what Twitter was all about and how to use it before it became such a hot topic. Since I had already learned about the professional value of Twitter, it prevented me from getting caught up in the hype. I think this is allowing me to be a more constructive Twitter user.
  • – Yes. Not only is Twitter a necessary tool for PR practitioners, but it is becoming mainstream for all people involved in social media. Within a year or so Twitter may be the equivilent of Facebook, and it is important that PR students stay ahead of the trend.

Has Twitter helped you learn in any way? How has it helped (or not)?

  • – Yes it has helped me learn about social media. Basically the general rules of using o twitter are applicable to most social media tools. For example, you have to be consistent with using it- you can’t just create an account and then forget about it. You have to interact with people – not just broadcast random things. Twitter has a culture about it, just like other social media tools – and it is important to be able to tap into the culture of the various tools.
  • – It has helped me learn more about social interaction with PR people. I think urging us to get on to communicate and teaching us to tweet during class helped us learn it. Especially when you told us how to interact with professionals.
  • – yes. When we used it in 301, I thought it was kind of pointless, but I completely see how useful it has been in a PR class. You always have said that social media is becoming more and more important and it really is. You have showed us how jobs are hiring people to just do social media so I think that it has helped us learn to get to know other people and be less shy when it comes to networking and see how a problem can occur very quickly over Twitter, etc.
  • – Yes it has helped. It’s helped me become more comfortable with contacting people I don’t know, expressing myself, learning more about others, and become more connected.
  • – I like being able to connect with people from all over.
  • – Following the conversations of PR professionals has helped me get insight into what their world is like on a day to day basis. It also helped me to make a few connections for myself.

Do you feel you “get” Twitter? What about it do you (not) understand?

  • – I do feel that I get Twitter, but I feel that I am not using to my full capacity. I understand what is valued in the community, but I feel that I don’t always bring that value because I feel I don’t have the time to go out and find the interesting thought provoking news – I feel that I am on more of the receiving end of what’s going on – and that’s fine with me…
  • – I think I “semi” get twitter. I still don’t completely understand retweets and stuff like that. but I understand how to search for things from what you taught us.
  • – Yes very much so.
  • – I do “get” Twitter. I still have a lot to learn, and I need to become better about posting original thoughts and putting more depth into what I saw, but overall I do eel that I “get” it.
  • – It took a while, but I think I get it now. Sometime I think I get it too much because I get so frustrated with the whole fad aspect of it.
  • – I understand Twitter, but I feel like you have to almost become addicted to it to become a full-fledged user. You have to be constantly engaged with someone else in conversation and understand all of the lingo and special tools (i.e. RT, #) to use Twitter to its full potential. Sometimes its unnerving to try to start/join a conversation rather than just give updates on what you’re doing, which most people won’t reply to.

Aything else you’d like to tell me about Twitter in PR classes?

  • – Twitter is good for PR classes. Regardless of what people say. 🙂
  • – This was great for communication with you as well. I think it helped us be able to interact and I think its great to keep the lines of communication open with you!
  • – I like being able to Twitter about class…during class. It’s nice to be able to bounce ideas off of other classmates.
  • – I would recommend giving students a few contacts outside of the classroom to follow when starting. For instance, offer students the names of PRSSA mentors to follow first who can springboard them into conversations with other professionals.

What has your experience been learning or teaching Twitter?

My job is to kill creativity

University professors… are curious forms of life. …They think of their bodies as transport for their heads.

We educate children only from the waist up, focusing on their brain, and that too, only one side of it.

Jillian isn’t sick: She’s a dancer.

If all insects were to disappear from the planet, life on Earth would vanish in 50 years. If all humans were to disappear from the planet, all forms of life would flourish.

These are a few quotes that stood out to me in this brilliant TED talk about education, given by Sir Ken Robinson. If you’re an educator, you owe it to yourself and your students to spend 15 minutes to watch it:

Hello, my name is Mihaela. My job IS to kill creativity.

Here’s how I try to try not to:

I’m very, very cautious, I try to treat it like a fragile and precious rare flower.:

  • I try, as much as I can, knowing I will always fail, to remove fear out of the classroom. But I still have to give grades, so it’s impossible to do away with fear. If you read my blog before, you know fear in education is one important theme on PR Connections.
  • I try to encourage students. I ask them to give themselves a break, not be harsh on themselves. I compliment them a lot. Yesterday I taught strategy. I asked students to create strategies for some case studies. They were hesitant to share, afraid they were wrong. I kept telling them it’s the first ever time they’re doing it, and they only had 20 seconds to think about it. It’s OK if your strategies suck. Guess what, they didn’t. But how many times do we grade students on their first attempt at something? 90%, I’m guessing.
  • I remove students, as much as possible, from modes of writing (research papers) that have conditioned their minds to be numb. I ask them to email or blog assignments instead of writing APA style papers. I ask them to create videos, dance, or perform, their final project. I will be (and I am) a persona non grata in my department for stating this publicly (we live for APA papers, and we do exactly what Sir Ken Robinson says: try to make them all university professors).

But here’s what I think: If you change the medium, you change the way they think. Ask them to write in a new medium, one that they haven’t been conditioned to fear and be constipated about and write like a mindless robot (see Richard Landham on the need to un-teach students how to write) – and guess what: Students’ writing comes to life, you all of a sudden see ideas, thoughtfulness, soul!But many times they choose to write APA style papers. Because it’s too late, because they’re scared to do otherwise, because they can’t think of anything else. So sad.

So, if you’re a teacher or a professor, what do you do to (not) kill creativity?

If you’re a subject of education (and we all were students at some point), teach me: What can I do to protect your creativity, or maybe even encourage it to grow?

[Found video via PROpenMic, thanks to Paul Loop. This post is inspired by the comments I posted on Paul’s post.]

The Golden Wall

I’m reading The Discovery of Heaven, a novel of ideas by Dutch author Harry Mulisch. One of the main characters, Onno, after a stint in politics, meditates on the nature of power.

He claims that power exists because of the Golden Wall that separates the masses (the public) from decision makers. Government, in his example, is a mystery hidden behind this Golden Wall, regarded by the masses (the subject of power) in awe.

Once the Golden Wall falls (or becomes transparent), people see that behind it lies the same mess as outside it. There are people in there, too. Messy people, engaged in messy, imperfect decision making processes. The awe disappears. With it, the power.

What happens actually, with the fall of the Golden Wall, is higher accountability and a more equitable distribution of power. Oh, and the risk of anarchy.

But the Golden Wall must fall.

In the communication professions, social media is tearing huge holes in the Golden Wall. Just like in 1989 Europe, some are celebrating, others are paralyzed with fear.

In education, the Golden Wall stands. Secret meetings behind closed-door decide the curriculum, the professors’ yearly evaluations, tenure, lives, my life.

I talk to my students about squabbles in faculty meetings that result in curriculum changes. I want them to see behind the Golden Wall. To understand how decisions about their education are made. That we’re human, imperfect, and hopefully, possibly, subject to change. I haven’t seen undergraduate students involved in changing the curriculum. Nobody asks them. They don’t push. At Purdue, the Graduate Student Association had a representative sit in on faculty meetings. We did impact the curriculum. We were in, behind the Golden Wall.

In U.S. government, C-SPAN gets us glimpses behind the Golden Wall. But we don’t watch. We’re too busy. It’s too boring. (OK, there are exceptions.)

Look around you. Do you see Golden Walls? Tear them down.

Then come back here and tell the story in the comments section.


“Yet I believe that school should be a safe place, the way home is supposed to be. A place where you belong, where you can grow and express yourself freely, where you know and care for the other people and are known and cared for by them, a place where people come before information and ideas. School needs to comprehend the relationship between the subject matter and the lives of students, between teaching and the lives of teachers, between school and home.” (J. Tompkins, A Life in School, p. 127)

“Fear is what prevents the flowering of the mind.” (Krishnamurthi)

(Thank you, Cheryl, for pointing out these quotations to me 🙂

How much of what you do, or what the people who work for you do, is motivated by fear?

Twitter in education: Practical solutions

We talked at EDB about using twitter with students: the benefits, the drawbacks, the logistics – including the 48 hours of twitter assignment that Karen Russell and Kaye Sweetser use. One logistical issue was to help the students find and follow each other among the professor’s long list of followers. Karen Russell solved this problem by getting a new account to use with her class. However, one thing I like about twitter is the help I sometimes get from other people who jump in the class discussion. Creating a new account would make it impossible for my students to meet my twitter community.

Here are the 2 solutions I found, and I document them here so other instructors can use them (and so I don’t forget them!).

1) – ask students to use a specific number (or other set of characters) as part of their twitter user names. For example, the course number, or any other random number. Then, they can scroll through the list of followers and follow all the other people whose user names contain that number. This works well, but sometimes students dislike interfering with their freedom to create a user name they like. The second solution solves this problem, too:

2) – e-mail students a distinct, clearly different image that your other followers are unlikely to use and ask all students to upload that image as their twitter icon. Instruct students to scroll through your list of followers and follow all the people identified by that particular image. After the students have identified and followed all the other class members, they can upload their own photo to their twitter profile.

Another challenge is to keep track of a conversation students carry on a particular topic. Their tweets might get lost among the tweets of others you’re following. Ask your student to use hashtags (#) followed by a specific code so that Twemes will collect all (in theory, at least) the posts on that topic. For example, we discussed symbolic interactionism in my Communication Theory class and marked all tweets about it with #si. You can see the resulting conversation indexed on twemes. I noticed Twemes didn’t pick up ALL students’ posts, so I wouldn’t rely on it to assign participation points, at least not yet.

Do you have other practical solutions or ideas for using twitter in higher education? Please share them in the comments!

Need more on twitter? Here are some of my favorite links:

Edelman Digital Bootcamp

I’m live-blogging EDB, look for several updates throughout the day.

Other EDB updates: twitter, EDB website & blog

Session 1 – Social Media 101

Erin Caldwell kicks off the day with her personal story. As an Auburn student, she became familiar with the PR blogosphere (see this blog’s blog roll for a start), she started the Forward Blog and built her reputation online. Edelman contacted her and by the time she interviewed, they pretty much knew they wanted to hire her. Being able to use social media & building your professional reputation online can help you get a job in public relations, whether you want to practice online or offline PR.

Team Edelman introductions and personal stories about social media a-ha moments. Different stories, different people, with technology backgrounds varying from tech guru to “barely able to turn on a computer” – but all share passion, curiosity, and love for their work [9:05 am].

Who’s here from Edelman: Chris Broomall, Erin Caldwell, Steven Field, Phil Gomes, Jena Kozel, Monte Lutz, Stephanie Wasilik. Bios here.

Educators’ track

Session 2: How PR practice uses social media

PR educators introduce themselves and talk about: helping students establish connections between social and professional uses of social media; motivating students to learn social media; disparity between expectations (students know all about social media) and reality (students are not familiar and even intimidated by new communication technologies – RSS what?!) [9:50].

Phil Gomes provides the big picture of current social media use in PR.

Phil saw blogging as the ultimate media relations tool – you can demonstrate journalists that you’ve read them, and have reacted to their work.

Don’t think of it as a technology problem; the technology in social media is easy to learn.

Phil describes his approach to teaching social media in the Chicago T4 lab. They spend one day immersed in online conversation analysis. Phil doesn’t believe in teaching products, so he teaches his students to use free tools to analyze existing conversations about a client. Tools you can use: bloglines, technorati, alexa, blogpulse, etc.

Job description for an entry PR job (assistant account executive):

  • administration
  • coverage + conversation tracking
  • list building + community & member-list generation
  • editorial/speaking calendar building + identifying client conversation-entry opportunities
  • list & opportunity qualifications + deep-dive analysis
  • team knowledge mgmt
  • AP + web style
  • etc. [10:20]

Phil loves the advanced search in technorati that identifies all links to a specific URL. For example see who links to this blog.

What Phil looks for in a job candidate:

  • intellectual curiosity
  • up-managing skills (free of CLM -career limiting moves-)
  • an examined, omnivorous media consumption life (facebook or myspace? why? WSJ or NYT? why?)
  • basic knowledge of social media tools

== Tired : Pitching :: Wired : Engagement ==

Don’t write self-referential posts (what I did/wore today) – be useful.


The ideal job candidate would have:


  • perspective; understanding of online communities – Phil loves this Wired article
  • good online writing skills: concise; interlinked
  • online law & public policy (DMCA)
  • communication, technology & society
  • critical consumption of media
  • an understanding of rules/culture of online engagement [10:40]

Session 3: Social Media Tools in the Classroom

Session 4: Social Media Assignments

Educators shared assignment ideas that make use of social media in various PR and communication courses. [4:15 pm]

Session 5: Wrap-Up – Best Practices

Students sum-up some of the lessons that stood out:

  • transparency
  • there are many free social media tools out there!
  • update your site/blog often
  • blogger relations require a different mindset

Edelman practitioners were impressed to see students taking time out of their weekend to learn these skills – there’s hope they’ll have new colleagues with the right skills set.

Phil Gomes wrapped-up the day.

Congratulations UGA students for organizing a great event! You’ve worked very hard and it definitely paid off, it was a very successful day!

[5:30 pm, signing off]