Green Up! the Classroom

Green Up NIUDuring the summer of 2012, NIU’s Information Technology Services launched an initiative to Green Up! NIU. This includes an effort to become increasingly paperless. The Vision 2020 goal of 100% Wi-Fi coverage in student and academic spaces supports going paperless, as does the new student printing quota. There are several ways that faculty can support the Green Up! Initiative and help students avoid unnecessary printing.

eReserves and Online Readings

The pressure of reducing textbook costs has increased the popularity of using eReserves or posting articles for students to download and print. However, this also results in additional student printing. There are a few options to reduce printing of electronic readings:

Laptops and mobile devices: Encourage students to bring and use laptops, tablets, and smartphones in class as allowable by course policies and course activities. Students can use these devices to access readings during class instead of printing them. Plus, these devices can be used for engaging in-class activities, as well.

Course Packs: Instead of posting reading assignments online for students to print, have them printed and available for purchase at the bookstore. While this does not eliminate paper, it does reduce students’ tendency to print multiple copies if they have lost of forgotten an article that they already printed. Using a Course Pack also allows students to pay for the materials using financial aid, if they are eligible. The University Bookstore and Document Services have partnered to improve the Course Pack ordering process and reduce printing costs for students.

In the future, Course Packs can be created electronically through an easy-to-use web store that automatically creates a cover and table of contents. The bookstore will obtain any necessary copyright permissions. Students can purchase the print materials from the bookstore. It is even possible to create an eBook format with interactive features, like embedded video or audio, that can be read on PC, Mac, and most mobile devices. Document Services is currently looking for volunteers who are interested in trying the new online course pack ordering and eBook creation processes. Anyone interested should contact Mitch Kielb, Director of Holmes Student Center at or Brian Thompson, Print Shop Superintendant at for more information.

Electronic Grading

We generate a lot of paper for assessing students. If students are required to turn in paper copies of their assignments, they may have to pay per page for printing just to submit their homework! Fortunately, there are plenty of ways for students to submit their work electronically:

Submission of Student Work

Blackboard Assignment Tool: Ask students to submit electronic copies of their work by using the Blackboard Assignment tool. Students can submit nearly any common file type, including but not limited to Microsoft Office, audio, video, and photo formats. The submissions are organized in the Grade Center so that it is easy to view and grade student work. Student submissions can be viewed individually or downloaded as a package. Learn more about the Assignment tool at or watch an archived workshop on this topic.

SafeAssign: One of the advantages of requiring students to submit their work electronically is the possibility of helping them with preventing plagiarism. SafeAssign is a plagiarism prevention tool that detects unoriginal content in students’ papers by identifying areas of overlap between submitted assignments and existing works. Text-based files (.doc/.docx, .txt, .rtf, and pdf) submitted through SafeAssign are compared with sources from the Internet, ProQuest ABI, previous submissions through SafeAssign at NIU, and a global reference database. Results are organized in the Blackboard Grade Center, which facilitates the grading process. Learn more about the SafeAssign tool at

Google Docs: Following the 2012 migration to Google Apps for Education, NIU students now have access to Google Dr. This means students can create and edit text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations from the web. Google Docs can be shared among students for collaborative work and submitted to faculty as a link.

Grading and Providing feedback

The Blackboard Assignment and SafeAssign tools allow faculty to provide feedback with a grade, comments, and a file attachment. It is possible to provide the same level of detailed feedback that is traditionally written in the margins by using some interesting technology:

Electronic Rubrics: Recently, Blackboard added an interactive rubric tool that can be used to grade any work submitted through Blackboard or for which a grade is entered into the Grade Center. The rubrics help students understand the requirements for the assignment and help faculty explain how student work is evaluated. The rubrics can be associated with Assignments and SafeAssignments, as well as Blogs, Journals, Wikis, and Discussion Boards for which grading is enabled. Rubrics can also be used for any column in the Grade Center, even if there is not an associated Blackboard submission (e.g. for papers turned in on paper, in-class presentations, participation, etc.). Learn more about Blackboard’s Interactive Rubric feature at or watch an archived workshop.

Microsoft Word Reviewing Tools: Microsoft Word has an extensive suite of features for commenting and editing documents. These tools are available under the Review tab (or menu, for older versions of Word). The New Comment button adds a balloon to the margin for commenting on a portion of the text. Highlight the text first, click the New Comment button, and then type the comment into the balloon. The Track Changes feature marks any changes to the document and notes who made the change. Students can review the changes and choose to accept or reject them. This would also be beneficial to introduce to students who are working collaboratively with Word documents.

For more information on using Track Changes, go to

Digital Handwriting: Imagine writing comments in the margin of a student’s paper, but then sending them the paper and comments electronically, without use of paper or ink. Digital pens, previously the tools of graphic designers and digital artists, have become more accessible for daily use. These devices can be used like a pen to sketch or write on electronic documents, in either Word or PDF format. Inexpensive pen tablets, like the Wacom Bamboo tablet, are particularly well-suited to this use, although it does require practice to become adept at writing legibly with one. Pen tablets can also be used to create narrated tutorials similar to those from the Khan academy or to handwrite formulas and calculations for handouts or study aids.

Mobile Devices: Mobile devices, particularly tablets, are also useful for electronic grading. With a tablet and a stylus, it is almost as easy to annotate student work electronically as it is on paper. The process is not perfect, yet, so it requires downloading student papers, syncing them through a service like Dropbox or Google Drive, and then annotating within an app like Adobe Reader (Free, for iOS or Android) or Good Reader($4.99, for iOS). It is also still necessary to upload student papers to Blackboard manually from a desktop or a laptop. However, using a mobile device to read and grade student work certainly makes the process easier. Blackboard plans to improve this process in future upgrades.


These methods really are just the beginning for electronic grading. Others have experimented with using audio feedback for grading, even recording the audio on an iPad, and with video grading. There is no one right way to grade electronically, just as there are many ways to grade on paper. The key is to find an efficient process that is comfortable, and to begin a little at a time.


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