Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Unexpected Benefits of Having Students Submit Papers Electronically

When our federal courts went electronic and started requiring the submission of papers electronically, I thought I should at least think about giving students the option of submitting papers electronically.  I thought it would be easier for students, particularly at a commuter school like mine in downtown Chicago.  Students had to email the paper, say, by 6:00 p.m. on a particular day when it was due.

I thought I would do this as a way of being nice to the students, and being able to submit papers electronically is in fact nice for the students.  They save on paper, and have much less stress from not having to rush to my office.  But although I did this for the students, to my surprise I also found it was nice for me.

I did not anticipate these benefits:

  1. I had an exact record of when the student sent the paper.  The date and time are in the email.  This makes it much easier to impose late penalties.
  2. I can do a quick spell check on the electronic document to see if the students used their computer spelling and grammar programs.
  3. If I suspect plagiarism, it is easier to check with an electronic version of the document.
  4. I can grade the paper electronically if I am in the mood to do so.
  5. If I am grading a printed out version of the paper, I can reprint a page if I later determine that I should rephrase a comment I wrote on a student paper.  (For example, changing "what WERE you thinking?" to "I am not sure the reader will understand this sentence.")
  6. If I had page limits or word count limits (which I don't, but others do), I could check those limits to see if the students used a function such as "make it fit" to avoid the page limits.
  7. If I am traveling to a legal writing conference somewhere on a day when a paper is due, having students email the paper to me allows me to travel without having to burden the registrar's office with collecting student papers.  Yes, they are always happy to do it for me, but having the electronic option is just easier.
  8. In student conferences and live grading, I have often pulled up the electronic version of the student's paper.

So all in all, moving from having students submit papers electronically was a good thing for the students and a good thing for me too.

Mark E. Wojcik


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