Giving students written feedback. Can I be more efficient?
April 1, 2021 5:55 AM   Subscribe

I teach a, um, let's call it a teapot crafting course. I have to give written feedback on my students' teapots. I want to improve my workflow to be more efficient. I have an idea, but I don't know if it's possible to achieve this with the software I have access to, basically Microsoft Office suite.

At the moment, I have a word document with a list of paragraphs of feedback that I often have to repeat. For example,

Your teapot's spout is blocked. Consider using a wider diameter.

Your teapot's spout dribbles. Have a look at section 6 of the notes on how to avoid this problem.

Your teapot's spout is perfect! Well done.

I work my way through the document, copying and pasting the relevant paragraphs into my students' Word documents, and then add a bit of personalised feedback for each student as well.

I'd like to set something up where instead of copying and pasting each separate paragraph one by one, I put a check next to the relevant ones, then do something ?? which puts all of those paragraphs in the clipboard, for me to paste the entire thing into the student's Word document in one go. Hopefully keeping the formatting, because of school rules (student feedback has to be in a particular font and a particular colour).

The student feedback has to be pasted into a Word document as that's the way the school has set it up, I can't change that.

Is there a way to do this, maybe using a spreadsheet? Or something???
posted by Zumbador to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've done this in word using autocorrect - set up a combination that you wouldn't usually use like 1))) for comment # 1 then when you type that combo it will autocorrect to the full phrase.
posted by london explorer girl at 6:01 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]

Same concept as above, but you can use AutoHotKey to map these to shortcuts.
posted by pyro979 at 6:21 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]

A text expander like PhraseExpress will also do this.
posted by Bardolph at 6:22 AM on April 1

Second AutoHotKey - last used it years ago but it would be perfect for setting up a keyboard shortcut to enter different snippets.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:28 AM on April 1

I don't have any tips, but I would like to thank you for thinking so much about student feedback. As a recent student, I would have liked more feedback.
posted by NotLost at 6:34 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]

I don't think the methods mentioned here will work for me? My current document with all my paragraphs is typically about 20 pages long, with multiple paragraphs. My student feedback will typically have between 10 - 20 paragraphs of text. And I mark lots of different assignments, each with a different "master" document of paragraphs. Or am I misunderstanding something?
posted by Zumbador at 7:39 AM on April 1

To make sure I'm understanding correctly, you have
Word files with pre-written feedback that you then c/p into a customized feedback for each student. You had different Word files with different feedback for different types of assignments, is that correct?
And what you're looking for is a quicker way to compose the individualized feedback without searching for the correct paragraph in the correct assignment-type Word script and then c/p?

If so - yes, AutoHotKey will work for this. You'll create scripts (tutorial).
posted by shesdeadimalive at 8:06 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]

Can you copy and paste each of your lines into a spreadsheet? And, then on one column, that is where you mark "y" (or whatever) to indicate this line is applicable. And then you filter the thing to show only rows with "y", and then you copy and paste the columns with the text into a word processor without formatting. You should play around with this for a few rows and see how you might need to copy/paste exactly. You probably won't get paragraphs (as everything will likely be on its own line), but that'll still likely be a lot faster, and maybe there's some type of search/replace in your word processor that allows you to turn line breaks into just spaces to turn it into one big paragraph. I just tested this in Google sheets and docs and the basic concept seems to work, and then you need something like this search/replace line breaks to clean it up a bit.
posted by ellerhodes at 8:10 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]

Yes you could script something in AHK that could do this, even add GUI like your checkbox idea.

Alternatively if you wanted to stay in the Office environment Office clipboard can store up to 24 items and can paste them all at once.

I would still consider AHK to script a ‘select and copy entire paragraph plus some extra formatting’ key command if I were to go this route though. And consider setting up a spreadsheet to make the different feedback paragraphs easier to scan/sort (on preview kind of like ellerhodes suggests, but instead of checking ‘y’ you hit a key command and that cell’s paragraph is copied to the clipboard, including a paragraph mark or whatever is needed to fix formatting. Then you keep moving down the list using arrow keys, and when finished making your selections paste everything using Office clipboard ‘paste all’, then wipe the office clipboard and move onto the next student).
posted by soy bean at 8:26 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]

Just checked and you should also be able to build the GUI to do this directly in Word using a template, something like this.
posted by soy bean at 8:33 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]

To answer shesdeadimalive's question -
I have a document with, say about 80 paragraphs. For a particular student, I will copy paragraphs numbers 1, 5, 7, 18, 24, 55. For the next student, I will copy paragraphs 2, 5, 7, 46, 72. And so on. Each student gets a different combination of the paragraphs. And each assignment has a different master document. Does that make sense? I'm not sure if I'm being clear.
posted by Zumbador at 8:41 AM on April 1

For each assignment, I would make a spreadsheet outline like the following: In row one, put, Comment (in Column A), Student 1 (in Column B), Student 2 (in Column 3)... and so on. In column A, add each comment in a separate row. For student 1, put an x in column B for any comment that applies. Then add a filter to your row one. For each student filter for x. Then copy and paste all the comments for a given student into the students' paper. You may have to mess around with paste settings when copying and pasting your comments into the students' paper.
posted by oceano at 10:08 AM on April 1 [2 favorites]

Yes, AHK would work great for that.

If you're pasting the paragraphs all in a row, I'd probably set up copy/paste for one starter line with generic text purely to get the formatting in there, and then skip interacting with the word documents by creating an AHK script that just includes the text of the paragraphs (with any appropriate line breaks built in) and set it so the paste function is "paste without formatting". That mean that whatever the first line's formatting is will carry over to the subsequent paragraphs. Then, to use my default formatting for shortcuts, you could just type something like 1xx[space]5xx[space]7xx[space]18xx... to paste the paragraphs into place. I use the [something]xx format because there aren't any words that I regularly type that have that combo--change as applicable for your usage.

If you are pasting your responses inline with other text that would have different formatting, then I'd follow the other great suggestions for a more complex solution using copying from documents instead. (Or possibly there's a solution where you could set it up to copy/paste a leader word like "Feedback:" with the right formatting and then the same process from my previous paragraph. Then you'd be typing something like Fxx[space]1xx[space], move down to new location, Fxx[space]5xx[space].)
posted by past unusual at 10:17 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]

I should add too that if you are using multiple sources for the different assignments, you could create multiple AHK scripts to load, or more simply use some kind of format to distinguish between shortcut terms within one potentially long script. For example, if the first teapot assignment could be a1xx[space]a5xx[space], second teapot assignment could be b1xx[space]b5xx[space...].

You could use more specialized words like teapotassign1_1xx in place of the a/b/etc. formatting, but then it starts to add to the overhead of the typing and makes the shortcutting much slower. So, I usually find it easier to double-check my shortcut labels on occasion than set myself up for a lot of typing.
posted by past unusual at 10:25 AM on April 1

A quick & dirty way to do this using Excel and Word would be to put each paragraph you want into a separate cell of a spreadsheet, then use [CTRL]+[left mouse click] to select the cells with the feedback you want to give, copy them, then paste as text into Word (Paste > Keep text only from the ribbon). Anything else I can think of would require some amount of programming or being able to memorize or quickly look up a short code for autocorrect or AutoHotKey to key off of.
posted by Aleyn at 12:06 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

Aside from the mechanics of it, I use a rubric for a course where I provide a lot of feedback. The rubric has 7-8 categories of aspects that I evaluate in rows, and then columns have text that explain what a poor / medium / good example of that criterion is. To grade, I assign a number from 1-5 for each criteria, then add some comments specific to each work.

I also provide this rubric to students ahead of time, so they know what to aim for, and what the criteria are, and can identify the common pitfalls to avoid.

So if you can simplify some of your 80 paragraphs into such a rubric to provide ahead of time, that might help both you and your students. Or you could, for instance, have a simpler rubric that in turn refers to a more-elaborated published list of your 80 paragraphs.
posted by Dashy at 12:41 PM on April 1 [1 favorite]

1) I think the thing that you are looking for is called a templating system.

2) Docassemble perhaps?

3) Recent Hacker News thread.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:43 AM on April 2

What you describe can be done in Word or Excel, with VBA.

I have an Excel file (macro-enabled, using the file extension xlsm) that does almost exactly this - I can check any number of columns, and it adds the text in the same row (but different column) to my Clipboard. When I'm done checking columns, I just paste. It's a VBA macro I wrote though, based on a tutorial I found online (that I neglected to save a link to, or I'd direct you there instead). I paste directly into our LMS, but you can paste into Word or anywhere else you can paste your clipboard.

I'd be glad to share it with you. I haven't tested it with long paragraphs and particular formatting though.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:54 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]

Supersquirrel that sounds excellent.
posted by Zumbador at 11:02 AM on April 2

Check your MeFi mail.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:39 AM on April 3 [1 favorite]

You want this. Excel, no VBA or macros required.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 6:11 PM on April 5

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