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.  **