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Feature: Alan Ableson, Queen’s University

Alan Ableson is quite familiar with managing and delivering large classes. In fact, as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Queen’s University, Alan specializes in teaching courses with over 200 students. Typically, these are required first-year math courses, which may may not be central to students’ specific academic and professional interests. Despite this, Alan brings his blend of enthusiasm and energy to the classroom, alongside a deep consideration of how to make these classes engaging, interesting, and positive experiences for all.

How to Manage Large Classes

Alan has a thoughtful approach to delivering large classes that hinges upon his experiences and understanding of students. He has a keen awareness of the many roadblocks to learning and motivation that exist in these contexts, and has employed an array of practices–both pedagogical and technological–aimed at engaging students. For many years, Alan has moved his classes away from the traditional lecture format and operated a form of blended learning. In essence, this consists of pre-recorded lecture videos, followed by live sessions that function as question-and-answer sessions.

Alan notes that the hybridity of his courses is targeted at increasing student-content, teacher-student, and student-student interactivity since these relationships are difficult to nourish in the traditional “being talked at” lecture format. The key to Alan’s style of interactivity is finding the right questions. Overly simple questions inspire little to no debate; overly difficult questions cause misunderstanding and concerns about the structure or wording of the question. While the “sweet spot” questions can be hard to find, Alan says, there is nothing quite like “the buzz in the classroom when you get a really good question.”

A Holistic View of Crowdmark’s Benefits

Alan has been using Crowdmark for 8 years, during which he has gained a strong understanding of the various functionalities in application to his classroom. Managing hundreds of assessments and multiple TA’s, Alan terms Crowdmark his “large class, saving my sanity tool” that turns stacks of paper into neatly organized submissions.

Alan calculates that Crowdmark has bumped up his team’s grading efficiency by 25%, noting that this is valuable time saved without compromising the quality of feedback. Alan finds that having TAs mark a single question across multiple individual assessments leads to more consistent scoring across graders, and this consistency leads to fairer grading of students. Similarly, Alan finds that the comment library also assists with consistency of feedback, allowing graders to respond with the appropriate solution or comments that revolve around similar mistakes.

Beyond grading fast, Alan has discovered an array of other features that assist his course in varying ways. Organizationally, Crowdmark allows Alan to check his grader’s work, edit grades, and manage cases of academic integrity with greater ease. Moreover, grade reviews are streamlined in Crowdmark because it is easier to find and see various elements that important to this process (who graded it, clarity of comments, etc.).

Lessons from a Power-User

A lot can be learned from Alan’s methods for teaching large-scale classes. His decision to opt for the blended format has allowed for greater interactivity amongst his students, and his integration of edtech solutions finds him using the best of what the digital world offers.

Want to learn more about how Crowdmark improves grading experiences?