Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Electronic Commenting on Student Papers

Hiemer_linda Legal_writing_institute_logo_3 Linda Hiemer (pictured at right) and Jane Wise of Concord Law School presented a session on how to comment on papers using VoiceLynx technology.  Their law school (Concord Law School) is a completely online law school founded in 1988.  In 2007 it merged with Kaplan University.  It currently has 1,500 students.  The average age of their students is 47, and 45 percent of their students have advanced degrees.  The school offers a JD degree and an EJD (executive JD) part-time program. 

Wise_jane The Legal Analysis and Writing ("LAW") course that they teach at Concord is offered in the third year (not the first year!).  The first-year curriculum is instead focused on preparing students for California's "baby bar" exam.  The school does some first-year writing instruction focused on preparing students to pass that exam, which (as I understand it) is required of students who are attending law schools that are not accredited by the American Bar Association. 

They explained the Voicelynx Program, which allows teachers to record verbal comments that can be uploaded and embedded as an MP3 file.  These verbal comments complement, reduce, or replace the traditional written comments that we make on papers.  For students, the program allows a marriage of visual and auditory learning.  It allows the use of word processing tools relating to the paper while embedding verbal comments.  And the only equipment that is really needed is a computer, a headset with a microphone, and recording software.

They use this technology on grading student essays, client letters, and memorandum.  They shared a sample paper with electronic comments, as well as a sample of voice comments for a student paper.

The students have a mandatory telephone conference if they received a grade of C or less on their papers.  Students with higher grades can request telephone conferences, and Professor Wise estimated that she may have conferences only with about 10 percent of her students.

Voice commenting is a relatively new way of giving feedback to students, and it is a method that many teachers might consider.  Some teachers have used programs that allow professors to record comments, and these comments can be particularly useful for overall comments.  There are technical problems with the size of files -- many files are too large to email and must instead be burned to a CD.      

The presenters played some examples of their recorded comments.  I wish I could be more enthusiastic about what I saw (and heard) at this particular presentation, but what I saw did not persuade me that it is a better assessment method than what I am using with live grading.  But again, that's just me.  Most professors are still using only traditional grading methods, and exploring voice commenting technology will help many professors (and students) become better writers.

The presentation here has to be considered in its context -- these are two professors who teach at an online school, with no opportunity to meet with their students.

The best take away from this session may have come from Christina Bennett at Seton Hall, who suggested that the technology as demonstrated could be used effectively with a sample memo.

Katy Mercer of Case Western Reserve (who also attended the session) shared with me the information that the software needed to do this is open-source and available for free from Audacity


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