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In the future, I'm thinking about applying for tenure-track positions in Computer Science at teaching/undergraduate focused institutions. The kinds of places that usually have 3-3 teaching loads and smaller class sizes.

How much grading of student work do faculty in these kinds of departments have to do? Are they able to hire upper-level undergraduates to do much of their grading for them, the same way that faculty at research universities are able to pass most of their grading on to graduate students?

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I taught at such places, though for some of them the load was higher. I once (over 30 years) had help when an intense course was oversubscribed (40 students instead of 30 or so). I've also done courses with 40 or more students, but with a lower class load, but no assistance.

But grading was never a burden, even in project courses with frequent deliverables. You just need a system for managing it and getting it done quickly while still giving feedback to the students.

Note that research universities often have very large classes, but also a very large TA staff to manage things. So, a given TA might be responsible for 30 students even if the course has 300 students. And the professor of record needs to spend some time managing those TAs, making sure that everyone marks in an approximately similar way and handling special issues and questions that arise.

I've always considered using undergraduates to grade other undergraduates to be problematic. It requires a lot of oversight and if class loads and class sizes are reasonable then you might just as well grade them yourself than manage the issues that might arise. Grading multiple choice questions is easy, though they are IMO the worst sort of exam or practice questions.

But for projects that need to be updated (biweekly, say) and quickly returned there are easy ways to manage it. First is to use small group projects rather than individual, reducing the number of papers. Next is to have students highlight changes from previous versions and also submit the old versions with the new.

With a system like the above, I was even able to permit students to resubmit "one pass" work for regrading if they could make improvements. A few hours a week was all that was required.

But, don't try to make it so efficient that you skimp on the feedback. Sometimes it is enough to show students where they went wrong, but other times you need to say why.

And, with smaller class sizes at such institutions, office visits are pretty frequent, making deeper feedback more possible, especially if they bring you work that has been highlighted with changes and/or issues.

And that contact and individual feedback is one of the key benefits to students attending such institution.

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  • Hi Buffy, thanks for the answer! Just a quick follow up if you don't mind, how many hours a week would you estimate you spent grading student work? 5? 10? More? Nov 22, 2021 at 16:18
  • Oh, sorry, I just saw in the middle of your answer, "a few hours a week was all that was required." Thanks! Nov 22, 2021 at 16:22
  • I would contend that altering assignment structure, such as forming small groups over individuals to reduce grading pressure is a trade-off to consider. Group assignments do not teach the same thing as individual assignments, even if the material is the same. The mere act of grouping students places a different teaching dynamic on the student and the material and should be adjusted appropriately. Otherwise you fall into a trap of perpetuating the notoriety of school group assignments and the general feeling from students they offer a lower quality learning experience.
    – David S
    Nov 22, 2021 at 16:57
  • @DavidS, yes, if you change one thing you need to change others (as was done). And it depends on field. I'd hesitate to use group assignments (other than for research) in math. But it works in CS with some changes. Peer Evaluation (not peer grading) helps. Frequent feedback helps. The very first courses have special requirements, etc. But students can learn from their peers if the process is managed. I think I've written elsewhere here about the mechanics of peer evaluation. (academia.stackexchange.com/a/143139/75368)
    – Buffy
    Nov 22, 2021 at 17:04
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I’d like to offer a different perspective from Buffy’s answer, although I’m in no position to make a judgment as to which is better.

My undergraduate institution was one such teaching college. But due to the growing size of the computer science major, the required courses often had hundreds of students enrolled across multiple sections. I’ll start by answering your second question first: at my college, professors in computer science absolutely hired undergraduate students to do grading for them.

There was a strong culture for students to both grade and tutor classes they had taken before, known colloquially as “grutoring”. Students who grutored reinforced their own learning, gained experience with teaching, and got paid to boot. Pretty much all of my friends in computer science grutored at least one class each semester after their first.

This includes upper-div classes: I graded fizz buzz level programs in our intro course to proofs in our algorithms course.

Professors often would employ another aid to reduce grading time: an online grader. This was usually done in addition to having grutors. We used Gradescope. Gradescope would automate the program checking by running it against test cases. The job of the grutor would then be to award points for style and flag any invalid submissions (usually students would be offered a chance to explain/resubmit).

It’s much harder for me to answer your question regarding how much work faculty did, as I was not a faculty member. There are three primary things I can imagine a professor has to do, assuming they have grutors.

The first is to design the grading rubric and any infrastructure for autograders such as Gradescope. The former can be done while writing up the homeworks, so I can’t imagine it is too much work, especially since questions will often fall into one of a few archetypes which you can have rubrics predefined for. The latter, while a lot of work, can be student-aided. I know at least one class where a student worked (over the summer I think?) to set up the autograder.

The second is to hold grading sessions, although this is often optional for upper-div courses. The required courses at my college have grading down to a science, having been refined over decades. This is useful, since they often have hundreds of assignments to grade each week. Pretty much all of them will have a “grutor party” one day of the week for about 1 to 2 hours, wherein each grutor grades their assignments and the professor is available to answer grutor questions. For the upper-divs which don’t do this, they’ll usually at least have a weekly meeting for thirty minutes to talk about any issues that came up.

The third (like Buffy mentioned) is to hold office hours. Grutors will also have grutoring hours, but if I recall correctly, they’re only obligated to help with the homework. You’ll nevertheless want to give students a chance to talk with you directly if you’re at a teaching college.

In sum, I think that “a few hours a week,” like Buffy said, is optimistically all that was required of my professors.

I’m happy to clarify any of these points if you have questions, but please keep in mind that my perspective comes from a student grader’s view at one college. Also, I think Buffy’s (and perhaps your) class sizes are much smaller than some of the ones I grutored.

Finally, this perspective is for homeworks only. In pretty much all the courses, professors graded all exams.

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