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July 22, 2024

Profs not at fault for late work

December 14, 2006

As the semester comes to an end and finals quickly approach, many professors are finding themselves grading piles of exams and assignments that have accumulated over the past several weeks. But students are growing impatient waiting for their coursework to be returned to them.

“This is one of the most common complaints against professors,” said Brad Caskey, psychology professor and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Political science professor Wes Chapin said the reason professors struggle with returning assignments is because of their workloads.

“The state has reduced the University’s financial budget and has also cut hundreds of positions from the UW System,” Chapin said. “That means, on average, every advisor has a few more advisees, many classes have a few more students, and there are many other tasks that were formerly handled by individuals whose positions have been cut, resulting in their work being spread out among the remaining staff.”

While online gradebooks like Desire2Learn have helped professors address the long-standing issue of keeping students informed about their grades in classes, grading coursework in a short amount of time remains a problem for some professors.

“I often find myself in a position where there is insufficient time to complete the grading during the workweek,” Chapin said. “I often spend much of my time on weekends catching up on grading.”

But what is a reasonable amount of time for professors to return coursework to students?

Chapin and Caskey said an ideal timeframe is either by the next class period or within a week.

“My rule is I give papers back the next class period, always,” Caskey said. “Part of giving a grade is to provide feedback to students so they can improve, and if professors aren’t giving feedback in time to students, then they can’t make improvements.”

Caskey said he is able to return assignments to students quickly because of his style.

“I read fast and put fairly minimal comments on students’ papers,” he said. “If I put detailed comments on them however, it would take longer to hand back.”

Caskey said it is important for professors to hand back assignments to students soon after they turn them in.

“If professors aren’t giving feedback in time to students, then they can’t make improvements,” he said. “The longer [professors] wait to give feedback, the more useless it is.”

Senior Julie Thompson agrees.

“I don’t know how I can improve my grades if I don’t know what they are,” Thompson said. “I think it is very important for professors to get assignments graded efficiently so students can improve [their grades] over the semester.”

Provost Charlie Hurt said returning assignments to students efficiently is a sign of respect.

“In my opinion, one of the ways [professors] indicate their respect for students and their work is to return students’ work in a timely fashion,” Hurt said.

Horticulture professor Susan Wiegrefe said the time it takes to return assignments also has to do with the type of exams professors use to test students. Short answer and essay exams typically take longer for professors to grade and hand back to students, whereas multiple choice exams don’t.

“It takes a long time to read through [short answer and essay] exams,” she said. “I spend a significant amount of time making sure they are fairly graded.”

Geology professor Ian Williams has addressed the problem of professors not returning coursework to students efficiently, and discusses the issue at the Faculty Development workshops offered during the summer.

“I usually spend 30 to 40 minutes talking about teaching and encouraging faculty to get work back to students in a timely manner,” Williams said.

While this has always seemed to be an issue for professors, he said increasing class sizes contribute to the problem.

“If you double the number of students in class, it will take more time,” he said.

Though professors may feel overwhelmed, there are strategies they can pursue to alleviate some of the pressures.

Wiegrefe said she has contemplated using multiple choice questions in the future.

“I am hoping to develop better skills to create multiple choice questions that are challenging,” she said.

While professors can use multiple choice exams to help speed up the process of returning assignments to students, Caskey said removing some assignments would also help significantly.

“If the workload issue is what is causing problems, then professors should change what they are assigning to students,” he said.

Give students less assignments, but give faster and better feedback, he said.

At this point, students can evaluate professors on their promptness and feedback on the student evaluations distributed in classes at the end of the semester.

“There is an option on evaluations for students to rate professors,” Caskey said, “At least in the psychology department, if we saw any areas that were low [in the evaluations] such as professors’ feedback, we would meet with faculty members and discuss strategies.”

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