October 17, 2017

Crowdmark: A more efficient way to grade student assessments

Brenda Davison, a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics, has been using Crowdmark to grade tests and exams for several years. The time-saving tool is now available to all SFU instructors.

“It’s way less work.”

That statement explains why mathematics lecturer Brenda Davison is enthusiastic about Crowdmark, an “online collaborative grading platform” that makes it quicker and easier to grade student assessments.

Crowdmark was developed at the University of Toronto to facilitate the grading of large numbers of exam papers by multiple graders. Davison and a number of other SFU instructors, primarily in Mathematics and Biological Sciences, were part of a pilot project to evaluate the tool. In September, the University acquired a site license that makes Crowdmark available to all SFU instructors and academic departments.

watch a crowdmark webcast by brenda davison >>

Crowdmark is essentially a system for processing digital copies of tests, exams and assignments. Paper-based assessments can be uploaded to the system as scanned images by departmental staff, Document Solutions, or even students using a smartphone camera. Each page of each student’s assessment receives a unique QR code so that specific pages or questions can be assigned to specific graders.

Grading can be done on a laptop computer or a tablet. Graders can easily add comments and annotations, and the tool automatically adds up the points from each question and calculates grades.

Time savings and unanticipated benefits

For Davison, a primary benefit of Crowdmark is that it saves time. She estimates that her TAs devote 30 percent fewer hours to grading than previously, but says the real savings come from the automation of the logistical and administrative tasks that accompany grading. For example, the time spent on activities like sorting names alphabetically and passing papers from one grader to the next has been “drastically reduced.” Reaction from her TAs has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

Davison also cites unanticipated benefits.

“I’ve cut down the re-marking requests by probably 90 percent,” she says, because students are less inclined to challenge grades when digital images of submitted assessments exist. As well, exam pages no longer go missing, and storage of paper exams in case of grade appeals is no longer necessary now that digital copies are available.

Crowdmark provides her with meaningful measures and statistics that she can act on. For example, Davison can compare the grading standards of different TAs and she can see at a glance which questions are causing the most difficulty for her students. Finally, grades can be shared with students immediately via a link or exported to Canvas at the push of a button.

Although Davison’s assessments generally use a short-answer format, she feels the tool could work for longer formats, including essays: “I do not see what would be any different than marking on paper.”

Instructors and academic departments interested in trying Crowdmark are invited to contact the Teaching and Learning Centre’s Learning Technology team at learntech@sfu.ca.

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