Presented at the 13th Annual NJWA Conference in April, 2012 
E-Book is forthcoming.

Why My Back Feels Better:

One Writing Professor’s Quest to Eliminate Hard Copies


When I first started teaching writing, I was participating in a fellowship at my graduate school in Brooklyn, but living in Central New Jersey.  Two days a week, I drove to the train station, took an hour train ride into Manhattan, walked two blocks and took a subway to Downtown Brooklyn.  It was a commute I didn’t mind at all. I got reading done on the train and every day was a new experience; I saw my first subway rat on one of those days, in all of its overfed glory.  But then, I was awarded a fellowship to teach one writing class per semester, and everything changed.

Within two weeks, my back hurt.  I lugged so many essays back and forth from New Jersey to Brooklyn and back that the strap on my backpack actually broke.  And this was just for one class! I would see the full time faculty members sometimes walking with boxes of papers and I thought, “There must be a better way!”

It was then, and especially a couple of years later when I first began adjuncting at two, sometimes three different schools,  that I realized we live in the age of technology.  I was going to have to embrace technology and allow it to inform and (hopefully) enhance my grading methods.  I was going to have to give up the colored pen (I always used green; red seemed so mean) and start grading on a laptop or my vertebrae were doomed.

I began by asking my then boyfriend (now my very patient husband) to help me create a gradebook along with rubrics for each student.  We did this using Excel, which I will explain later on.  Once I thought I had that down, I started to work on labeling systems in my Gmail, which we will also discuss.  This was one of my most helpful ideas – a way to separate essay from essay, email from email.  A way to see, at a glance, how many papers have not been read and which ones have already been emailed a response.  I now had the system down. It was time to convince my students.

They were resistant at first and still do, sometimes, bring me hard copies out of pure habit.  Of course, they still bring in their actual, paper papers on days that we conduct peer review in class (although if I could ensure a laptop for every one of my students, this would not be the case) and I still ask them to submit their portfolios on the last day of the semester in actual folders by handing them to me, as it is much nicer to say good-bye to someone in person.  But when it comes to submitting an essay to me for feedback and /or a grade, they must send it to me as an attachment, and I have even gotten to the point that I can specify acceptable files types and address small but significant glitches that have presented themselves over the years.  (Do you know how many students actually forget to attach anything at all?  It’s maddening!) I have found, though, that because I am clear about it from the first day of class, they either cheerfully or grudgingly accept the fact that their professor is an email person, and their essays would be commented on and graded digitally, through the crazy and intimidating open space that we call the internet. 


This presentation will include a visual demonstration using Power Point, Excel and Gmail, in which the creation of an Excel spreadsheet and rubrics can be created and equations entered in, as well as a demonstration of Gmail labeling and syllabus/classroom tips to ensure student cooperation.