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Strengthening grading efficiency and consistency at Duke Kunshan University

A Gradescope user story featuring Jiaxin Wu, Educational Consultant, and Mengyu Ma, Learning Experience Designer, of Duke Kunshan University

Amanda De Amicis
Amanda De Amicis
Content Writer






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Duke Kunshan University, a joint-venture university between Duke University (Duke) and Wuhan University aims “to provide the highest quality undergraduate and postgraduate education and enable our students to lead purposeful and productive lives”. Underpinned by interdisciplinary liberal arts and sciences programs, the institution prides itself on a student-centred approach, interdisciplinary collaboration, and promotes quality, innovative pedagogy and curriculum for teaching and learning success.

As part of Duke Kunshan University’s (DKU) investment in tools and resources that enable this mission to unfold, and in partnership with Duke, they decided to extend Duke’s Gradescope licence for use at DKU. Working within the institution’s Centre for Teaching and Learning, Jiaxin Wu, Educational Consultant, and Mengyu Ma, Learning Experience Designer, played a key role along with the entire CTL team in the onboarding. Viewing Gradescope as an important technology for teaching and innovation, they encouraged faculty to trial the assessment platform and determine if it fulfilled their needs. Here, they share their collaborative work and experience with the product across a group of faculty and students, and its impact during the trial and beyond.

The first taste of Gradescope

As established above, DKU first learnt about Gradescope through Duke University’s use of the assessment platform. Having observed its benefits for their overseas colleagues, they sought to address the existing grading pain points of their own teaching faculty. The trial of Gradescope began with an in-person physics placement test, conducted for first-year students. The university tasked Gradescope with the digitalisation of this hand-written and paper-based student assessment for grading, following a ‘batch scan’ of all of the papers for upload to the platform. This grading experience for the large student cohort demonstrated greater flexibility and efficiency of Gradescope for educators compared to existing grading methods, thereby encouraging Duke Kunshan to expand its use across multiple disciplines including natural sciences, economics and languages.

What grading was like before adopting Gradescope

Retrospectively, Gradescope was introduced at DKU at a pivotal time, and coincided with broader institutional strategies to shift to online and hybrid learning. When the pandemic hit in 2020, these measures were ramped up to support both international students and faculty members who returned to their home countries and were not able to work on campus. In their respective roles as Educational Consultant and Learning Experience Designer, Jiaxin and Mengyu were part of the collaborative effort to source and offer technology options to enable DKU educators and students to thrive, despite the difficult circumstances. They consulted teaching faculty about their pedagogical needs to guide the adoption of digital solutions, and found the core pain point echoed by faculty was wanting to grade their cohort of students more effectively and efficiently than manual methods.

The natural and applied sciences and language courses at DKU for which Gradescope was trialled, previously relied on rather manual methods of large-scale grading by the teaching faculty. Jiaxin and Mengyu clarify how digital tools that integrated with their learning management system were already in place at the institution, however they did not fulfill all of the needs of instructors when grading; especially in an online setting. Jiaxin points to the difficulty in maintaining grading consistency between single graders during a long grading session, or multiple graders during a collaborative grading session. Jointly, the application of grade points in reference to defined rubric items was limited, in that changes to criteria mid-grading to award or deduct points became a very time-consuming process for graders – especially in the science courses. Duke Kunshan was looking to Gradescope to directly address these inefficiencies and streamline workflows for their faculty.

The Gradescope difference and faculties’ favourite features

Speaking about Gradescope in the context of their own roles as educational developers and by representing some of the views of the teaching faculty users, Jiaxin and Mengyu recognized the capacity of the platform in transforming the assessment delivery and grading workflow of participating faculties. In their experience, onboarded faculty have overall found it to be user-friendly with a limited learning curve.

A crucial benefit of Gradescope noted by the university has been the time-saving and efficiency afforded to teaching faculty in the grading of work that reduces their administrative burden and gives time back for actual teaching. One such example of time savings was reported by the Physics faculty at Duke Kunshan, which compared time spent grading with and without Gradescope. They discovered a distinct reduction in time, which is only magnified when the course size and student headcount increases. A favourite feature they identified is the AI-Assisted Grading and Answer Grouping which categorises answer types on a per-question level to make lighter work of grading, while illustrating patterns of student errors or mastery that offer insight into course and teaching efficacy.

Jiaxin and Mengyu point out that Duke Kunshan features interdisciplinarity with collaboratively-taught courses, so the benefit of Gradescope extends to how it maintains consistency across different graders via the unique Dynamic Rubric feature. Built in advance or created on the fly, rubrics can be constructed collaboratively and adjusted at any time, including to previously graded work. A colleague of Jiaxin and Mengyu, Xiaofei Pan, Ph.D., Lecturer of Chinese Language, confirms its appeal. She adopted Gradescope in 2020 to deliver assessment and grade student work in her Chinese language course, and marvels at how a click of a button can apply rubric items and adjust them at any point during the grading process.

Xiaofei also notes that compared to other digital tools, Gradescope’s interface is more interactive, it supports more actions such as rubric flexibility, and she appreciates that assessment can be done wholly online. From collecting assignment submissions, completing grading and then returning work back to students, Xiaofei describes it as an ‘all-in-one’ system, and reflects favourably on its impact: “Gradescope helps me to collaborate better with my team members to do the work more efficiently and to give more consistent feedback using the same criteria.”

The student experience with Gradescope

For all the talk of teaching faculty benefits, Jiaxin and Mengyu understand that digital solutions must also be student-friendly in their purpose and application, and Duke Kunshan has an arm dedicated to soliciting student feedback on tools they use. For starters, they’ve found that some students enjoy the convenience of uploading work to Gradescope via their smartphone camera and in a single ecosystem, which is a dual benefit in reducing administrative workload for both students and teachers.

Gradescope’s ability to make better sense of grading and feedback for students is also at play, with Jiaxin and Mengyu noting: “the possibility of providing personalised and targeted feedback to students with Gradescope definitely helps Duke Kunshan fulfill its mission, to serve students, and to be more student-centred.” In fact, Mengyu recalls the positive feedback they have received from students about the view of their performance afforded by Gradescope. It’s been described as more accessible and user-friendly than some other learning analytics they have been exposed to, providing a better indication of how they performed in relation to their peers. Add to that its support of scientific notations helpful for STEM students, and Jiaxin and Mengyu believe the tool gives students more detailed feedback aligned with rubric items, supporting their future study and ongoing improvement.

Gradescope’s impact on Duke Kunshan’s teaching and learning innovation

Reflecting on the biggest or most meaningful impacts of Gradescope on their institution, Jiaxin and Mengyu point to its success in driving technology-enhanced pedagogy, and in the context of their roles as learning designers, helps them support teaching faculty and collectively strive for innovation. For example, discussions with faculty on pedagogy and methodology for enhanced assessment can suffer from vagueness and a lack of parameters. The use of Gradescope offers a yardstick for the design of detailed rubrics and personalised, targeted feedback to accompany it, for faculty members to incorporate into their teaching and grading strategy.

As such, Jiaxin and Mengyu acknowledge that the value of Gradescope goes beyond grading in-the-moment, to help inform rubric and feedback design: “one of the important things that Gradescope brings us is that it actually helps increase the awareness and capacity about course design… the tool has scaffolded faculty in how to design and use rubrics, how to provide rich and specific feedback for students, and also how to digitise assessments.” Education professionals know that assessments hold a wealth of knowledge to unlock learning outcomes, but it can often be tricky to extract the data in a meaningful way. Jiaxin and Mengyu credit Gradescope’s accessible, real-time learning analytics with addressing this issue, yielding a ‘big picture’ view of student and class performance so that faculty can factor the insights into course revisions, development and teaching growth.

The future of Gradescope at Duke Kunshan University

In the global shift to remote learning in 2020, Duke Kunshan was able to adapt quickly with Gradescope as a platform of choice in their edtech ecosystem. Since the dust has settled, Duke Kunshan has formally adopted a hybrid teaching and assessment strategy and signalled their continued use of Gradescope. In 2021, the university won the 2020 Asia Pacific Gradescope Grants Program, by demonstrating how they would expand their use of Gradescope to increase student learning, improve grading efficiencies, and ultimately inform assessment and course design across remote and hybrid learning environments.

Jiaxin and Mengyu intend to use the grant to recruit more faculty to join and pilot Gradescope in courses beyond sciences and languages, across different disciplines and divisions. For instance, a unique feature of Gradescope Duke Kunshan is yet to fully harness according to Jiaxin and Mengyu, is the code/programming assignment functionality. They note that faculty in Computer Sciences have previously had to devise their own grading systems and hope Gradescope can fill the emerging need in this field, with the added benefit of similarity detection within coding submissions to preserve assessment integrity.

Helping drive Duke Kunshan’s long-term vision for Gradescope is also the scope for evolution in the product. Jiaxin and Mengyu appreciate the user feedback opportunities to request new or modified features to support ongoing improvement of the assessment platform.

Aiming to develop formal Gradescope best practices to guide faculties’ ongoing engagement with the tool, Jiaxin and Mengyu also intend to share Gradescope use cases with peer institutions in order to advance dialogue on pedagogy and technology innovation and development. They encourage institutions to try the assessment platform, in order to help support the hybrid education delivery of the future and elevate the grading experience for teaching faculty and students.

Seeking to transform your grading into learning? Trial Gradescope for yourself!