My loudest complaint is the impersonality of the online model. There’s something reassuring and intimate about a hand-corrected paper. To print a paper is to finalize it, making change all but impossible. Printing a paper brings the writer’s ideas and craft into the physical world. In a realm as tenuous and self-conscious as academia, tangibility provides a reassuring degree of legitimacy. A professor’s handwritten corrections are a sign that, even if the grade is poor, the student’s effort received individualized attention. Inserting feedback via track changes, or any online form, is chillingly anonymous and curt.The commenters, mostly professors, don't seem to agree; I especially liked Anthony Grafton's comment that "My handwriting, always cryptic, could now be used to defend Google against Chinese hackers." That's been my experience, too: seeing a few students come up after class, I hope to hear something like "these comments were so helpful!" but instead hear "can you tell me what this word says?"
I'm of two minds about grading via inserted comments versus handwritten comments. For one thing, the inserted comments are easier to read, assuming that the students have some flavor of Word (which they mostly seem to use). Also, I then have a record of the paper and what I said, so I can refer to it if I have to write a letter for the student later.
But is this "chillingly anonymous and curt"? Do students assume that because I'm grading using a computer that the comments are somehow generated by computer rather than by me? Is there something personal and handmade, like an Amish quilt,* in writing comments on the paper by hand? I know one thing that I miss in the computer version: all the swooping lines, arrows, circles, and brackets that I can use to point out connections in the paper. There's a nonverbal but visual quality to those marks that can't be duplicated when typing on the computer.
As I veer back and forth, preferring first one and then the other, I wish I knew which one the students prefer. (When I've asked, the answer has varied by individual students; there doesn't seem to be a clear preference.)
Which do you use, and why?
*"Amish" because the quilts are "personal and handmade" by the thousands, like the papers we grade.