Another reason I love Mendeley: Grading student projects!

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Ya’ll, I’m totally on the Mendeley bandwagon. In an earlier post, I talked about how great it is for organizing my course readings and for taking notes on the readings to have them all in one place. But I’ve branched out to experiment with another potential use for Mendeley – grading student projects. So far, I think it works pretty well.

For the second unit of ENG 101, we explore the differences between academic writing (through looking at journal articles) and public writing (by analyzing magazine articles). Their unit project is to adapt a journal article for a popular audience by creating a magazine spread that reports on the information and targets their audience effectively. I let the students get creative and go all out with the layout and design, whether with just MS Word or with Adobe Creative Suite. Because of this, I ask them to submit their projects in PDF format instead of as a Word document or RTF (which is how they normally submit projects; I grade everything electronically in Word using “Insert Comment” and “Track Changes”). Before using Mendeley, though, I had no way to grade ON a PDF; instead, I would create a Word document and just record my comments in there. As you can imagine, that’s not the most efficient way to do so. (I know, I should just buy Adobe Pro, and then I’d be set, but – I’m holding out until I get my new computer.)

So, since I’ve discovered Mendeley, I’ve been thinking that it would be a possible solution to my grading PDF conundrum. And it is! I just download a folder with all of my students’ projects in them. I start grading by highlighting where there are spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors, just like I used to in Word. Then, I’m able to insert comments directly at the point where I’m commenting on. When I’m done, I export the PDF and am able to email the file with annotations back to the students. Genius!

I’ve really only one complaint about the process: when I export the PDF, I lose the little comment graphic that shows students where I’ve commented in their file. I don’t know if that’s only because of my computer at this point, or if that’s how it works for everyone. So, I’ve come up with a solution by highlighting just the final word of a sentence where I’m commenting and then inserting the comment over top of the little highlighted part. In my emails to students, I tell them to hover their cursor over the small highlights, and they will see my comments for that part. (Dear Mendeley: Is it just because my computer is older? Or if the graphics do not export, can you try to make that happen for future versions? Thank you!!).

Overall, though, if you like working with free software and grade PDFs, this is totally a great idea. Even better if your students use Mendeley, as I’m sure the graphics would show up if they imported the graded file into their own Mendeley desktop. If I ever move to a no-textbook and only online readings course, I might just make them all download the software…

**Edited to add: Also, once I’ve exported all of the PDFs to save them on my computer in my teaching files and emailed them back to students, I plan to delete them from my Mendeley desktop & web account so that those files don’t contribute to my free space limit.  **

3 thoughts on “Another reason I love Mendeley: Grading student projects!

  1. That’s quite a clever system, Meg! I’m sure there are other teachers out there that would benefit from that system, but I think we can probably come up with a solution that doesn’t require you to keep adding and deleting PDFs or sending the about in email. I was thinking that if we arranged for the whole class to have a Mendeley account, not only would that help you manage your classes (and keep comments from from getting lost). If your interested, I can put you in touch with someone about an institutional account – we could even serve your whole school.

    Regarding the comment icons, though – those are specific to your annotation system, so they won’t necessarily show up everywhere. However, we’re working on a way to write annotations that’s more transportable.

    Thanks again for the great idea and let me know what you think about arranging a group account.

  2. Since your last post on Mendeley, I have since become a fan. I like that I can tag and sort my different pdfs whereas before I would print out the papers and keep them in separate manilla folders.

  3. Mr. Gunn –

    I definitely see a market for teachers using Mendeley for grading, especially now that so many of us deal only with electronic versions of essays and not hard copies. I am encouraging my students to get Mendeley so that they may be able to see the annotations I’ve made more easily. I would definitely love if in a future version of Mendeley the annotations were more easily transported from one user to another.

    For future classes, I would definitely consider a group account for each section I teach. I’m not sure I could speak for the institution, since NCSU is so large, but I would certainly try out a class group in Mendeley – my classes are hybrid, and almost all of the readings are online to begin with. Thanks for the comment!

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