With the future of learning at Northern Illinois University becoming increasingly paperless, thanks to the new GreenUp NIU initiative, it will be important for faculty to explore different ways to leverage technology to support a more paperless teaching and learning environment. Given that free printing for students will continue to be gradually reduced in increments of 100 sheets per year to zero by Fall 2015, many faculty have already been taking advantage of using technologies like Blackboard to accept and grade assignments and other work electronically.
In an effort for faculty to rely less on paper, Blackboard has recently released a new Inline Grading feature which is an enhancement to the current Assignment feature already in Blackboard. For many faculty who are already used to accepting and grading work electronically, the typical grading workflow in Blackboard was to create assignment submission links to which students submit their work. Faculty would then later download the submitted work and provide comments and feedback in a variety of ways (the most common way is using the Track Changes and commenting features in Microsoft Word). Faculty would then save and upload the corrected work back to Blackboard, assign a grade, and repeat the same process for other students.
Now, instead of requiring faculty to download student-submitted files to view or edit those submissions, they will be able to take advantage of the new Inline Grading feature to view student-submitted files “inline” directly in the web browser without requiring any special plugins. Faculty can view, comment, and grade these assignments without ever leaving the grading page. This new inline grading feature also features annotation tools which allows faculty to provide feedback including comments, highlights, and even drawings/annotations directly on the document without needing to download and open the document in a separate program. Currently, this new feature supports the inline viewing of the following document types: Word (DOC, DOCX), PowerPoint (PPT, PPTX), Excel (XLS, XLSX), and PDF. Any formatting and embedded images of the original document are preserved when viewed inline. If students upload files in unsupported formats, faculty will be prompted to download and view the file. Students will not be able to add/edit faculty annotations on their work, but they will see their work in an inline viewer after submitting them.