I have been using the updated version of Blackboard Annotate for over a semester now and I have to say that it has made my grading life a lot easier and faster. For starters it has cut my grading time quite a bit because I don’t need to spend any time downloading and uploading homework assignments to and from Blackboard as well as creating and naming folders that fill up my computer with student homework that I have to go and delete at the end of the school year.
In the past I used MS Word’s review tool that includes track changes to grade and provide my students with feedback on their writing. The Blackboard’s Annotate software is a lot easier to use and a lot more intuitive. What I mean by that is that the tools are grouped up better allowing the grader to not keep changing between the different functions. For example, in the pen section where you can underline parts of the paper digitally you can erase a mistake without leaving that area. In the previous version there was no eraser, and it was very difficult to delete a correction. Just that change has made it so much easier and less time consuming for me as I teach writing.
The other function that I am enjoying a lot is the comment tool as I am able to provide in line comments with ease and because it mimics the MS word “new comment” in the review section it is second nature to me and the students. Once you add the comment, a small yellow icon shows up and then the comment appears in a panel next the comment. Although you cannot edit the comment you can easily delete it. Hopefully in a future version of Annotate they will add the edit function in the comments section as well.
Another cool function is the content library, which allows you to create a bank of reusable comments that can be edited or deleted. You can also add a comment to the submission page from the menu. The other thing that I liked is that you can type keywords or phrases to search for comments that I have saved and because I don’t need to keep typing my comments it has become one of my favorite tools.
With almost 80 students a semester and about 7-9 assignments for each student you can imagine how much happier I am with Blackboard Annotate these days. It has turned a long session of grading papers quicker, simpler, and easier. So, yes, I would recommend that anybody who has access to this version of Blackboard Annotate to take the time to learn how it works.
Below you wlll find an overview of Blackboard Annotate from the Blackboard’s YouTube channel:
YouTube Video https://youtu.be/WFaEf_7-KaM
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The semester is more than half over and I find myself some days having a difficult time balancing work and home life. There is no real separation between work and personal life since I work from home. In the perfect world, one would work all morning when the house is quiet, but then I remember that the dishwasher needs to be emptied or I have to cook dinner early because when my child comes home I have to rush out the door for soccer practice or a music lesson. Irrelevant of the reason the list of interruptions goes on and on…
Strategies for balancing my workload:
- Stagger my due dates, especially after the middle of the semester as my courses are writing intensive. This strategy makes sense for me as I have about 70 students every semester and I assign about eight to nine assignments per student. So the amount of pages I have to read on my computer/tablet is enormous, to say the least.
- Not edit my students’ writing so much, but provide them feedback on the error patterns I see in their writing. Editing student writing can overwhelm students and it does not aid them in becoming better writers. Showing them a few of their errors actually, helps them improve their writing more.
- Pace myself. I read student papers for an hour at a time as my eyes get more tired faster when I read a computer or tablet screen. I usually dedicate 2 hours of reading assignments in the morning, as I have to also respond to student discussions, read blog reflections, and respond to student emails and questions.
- Work at different times of the day and night. So if I work on a set of papers in the morning and I haven’t finished that set of assignments, in order to finish I will end up reading in the evening.
- Take it with me. Many times as I rush out of the house to take my son to the park, practice, or a playdate I bring student papers with me. I download them to my MS Surface and I read them wherever I am. Even if I read two more assignments it is more than I would have if I hadn’t brought my work with me which gets me closer to finishing my work.
- Set due dates for when to return students their homework. It helps me stay organized and the students know when to expect the assignment feedback and their grades.
- Use Tools that will help you stay on track. I like to use my MS Surface tablet as it helps read and comment on student papers like I am reading a piece of paper that a student handed me in class. Besides being able to write on the screen like I would on a hard copy, the other benefit this tablet has is that it is light and small enough for me to be able to take it anywhere.
I am sure that there are more strategies out there that other hard-working educators are using, but these are the ones that work for me. They help me balance my personal and professional life because things happen to throw me off track all the time.