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Study Tracks Types and Frequency of Instructor Comments on Student Papers (awk.)

Educators at both the high school and postsecondary levels are writing the same types of comments on student papers, according to a new study conducted by Turnitin, a provider of originality checking and online grading software. The report, "From the Margins: What Instructors Say on Student Papers," suggested that feedback intended to help students improve their writing skills may not be having the desired effect but that using online grading or e-feedback may help improve student engagement.

The study, which was conducted in the spring of this year, examined instructor feedback on more than 2 million student papers that were submitted through Turnitin's GradeMark service. The GradeMark software includes a feature called QuickMark, which enables instructors to place editing marks directly on students' online papers. The study examined 30 million QuickMark comments and tracked the frequency of each type of comment.

The five most frequently used comments in QuickMark at both the high school and postsecondary levels were "missing comma," "awkward," "spelling error," "delete," and "cite source." Other frequently used comments included "improper citation," "run-on sentence," "comma splice," and "unclear." Thirteen of the 25 most frequently used comments related to composition, a list that included "weak paragraph transition," "fragment," "tense shift," and "support needed."

The study also found a high frequency of comments related to spelling and citation errors, despite ready access to spell checking and source citation tools. The report speculated that the frequency of these spelling errors could be related to students rushing to meet deadlines or simple carelessness, but that citation errors are more likely owing to lack of understanding. The report suggested that teachers need to work with students to help them understand and practice proper citation.

According to the report, the consistency in comment frequency between the high school and postsecondary levels is troubling and indicates that more work needs to be done to improve student writing earlier on, but the report suggested that using online grading and e-feedback software, such as GradeMark, may help students pay more attention to comments from their instructors and consequently help the students improve their writing skills.

"Bringing the grading and paper evaluation process online--with ready marginal commenting, space (literal) for typing extensive comments, improved legibility of feedback, the ability to leave voice/audio comments--energizes this dialogic relationship and the impact of instructor comments and feedback," stated the report. "And significantly, the medium of the message (online feedback) suits its audience--students for whom the culture of engagement, sharing, and feedback online is a native experience."

The results of the study are detailed in the white paper, "From the Margins: What Instructors Say on Student Papers," which is available through the Turnitin site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at [email protected].