Adventures in Ethics and Science

The semester must be in full swing, because suddenly I have an abundance of papers to grade. So I’m using a brief pause (between grading one stack of papers and grading another stack of papers) to share a grading-aid I just figured out at the end of last semester.

Typically, by the time the stacks of papers come in, I have all kinds of other pieces of work-in-progress on my desk. I could put those away (and hope that I’ll remember where I put them when I’m done with the grading), or try to keep the papers I’m grading restricted to part of the desk. This never works that well, and the feeling of being cramped makes the actual grading painful enough that it’s hard to sit down and just get through it.

Also, the chances of coffee spilling on the student papers is pretty high.

My old alternative was to stick the papers to be graded on a clipboard and work away from the desk. This still involved a sense of being cramped, as I’d have to shuffle the papers I was grading and the grading rubric — your standard clipboard, after all, is just wide enough for your standard sheet of copier paper.

Well, last December, as I was hauling final exams into my office for grading, my gaze fell upon an item I’ve had in my office for a few years:


It’s your standard student drawing board. (The approximate dimensions are 19″ x 19″, or 48.3 cm x 48.3 cm.) The particle board surface is flat enough and solid enough to support writing, there’s a handle cut out of the side, and most importantly, there are two strong clips on it.


This means the drawing board is perfect for clipping a stack of papers to be graded right alongside the answer key you are using to grade them.

The surface of the drawing board fits very comfortably on a lap, which means you can sit where you want (office chair or couch) and have enough room to write your comments. The cutout handle is actually suboptimal, if you need to make marks or comments on the portion of the paper that’s hovering over the region of absence of particle board, but clipping a manila envelope under the paper helps with that.

Plus, I have never felt the temptation to place a coffee mug on the drawing board, so that source of danger is eliminated.


The side-by-side clips also work well if you have an assignment you’re grading with a checklist-style rubric.

I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that my drawing board was useful for more than just drawing. The only real downside I’ve noticed that its size makes it tricky to transport in the rain (something we’ve been having lots of lately). It took me awhile to find a large enough plastic bag to fit over it and protect those painstakingly inscribed comments from dissolution.

Sadly, the drawing board does not actually do the grading for you. Still, it improves the grading experience enough that the grading gets done.


  1. #1 JohnV
    March 3, 2010

    I assumed the device was a bottle of liquor.

  2. #2 Jason
    March 3, 2010

    Absolutely brilliant. I may have to go out and buy one of those at the campus bookstore.

  3. #3 Tony P
    March 4, 2010

    Or you could just move to scantron and let the machine do the grading for you.

  4. #4 Scicurious
    March 4, 2010

    Sci has had many papers returned to her with coffee stains on them. One prof accidentally spilled a full cup of coffee over the ENTIRE CLASS’ exams. He was so embarrassed about it, we didn’t have the heart of make fun of him (much). I also have gotten papers back that have been stolen by toddlers and used for artistic endeavors, and ones with teeth marks in them from the prof’s dog. The dog and toddler OBVIOUSLY knew which paper was the best in the class.

  5. #5 Kate
    March 4, 2010

    Wow, it looks like you have a really thorough essay grading rubric there. Care to share?

  6. #6 Namnezia
    March 4, 2010

    I second Kate’s comment – I never use a rubric like that for grading essays, what’s on it and how do you use it? Usually when I’m grading papers I have some set of criteria that must be met, but nothing ever so detailed.

  7. #7 Pat Cahalan
    March 4, 2010

    Isn’t paper supposed to be dead by now?

  8. #8 Freemage
    March 12, 2010

    For carrying it, I recommend going to an art-supply store; there’s plenty of portfolio cases that would suit, and have a comfortable handle to carry it with. (You could even keep the papers attached–the portfolios are thick enough to accommodate an entire pad of sketch-paper.)

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