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FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Leave the Mechanics of Assessment to Us

We know you have questions about Virtual-TA. We’ve created this Frequently Asked Questions page to answer them. If you’d like to speak with someone about the Virtual-TA service, please call us at (571) 327-0737 or email sales@virtual-ta.com.

  1. How do you ensure the quality of the feedback?
  2. Won't instructors lose control over the process?
  3. Will instructors have access to and visibility into the grading process?
  4. Wouldn't you be interfering in the instructor-student relationship?
  5. Your process looks time-consuming. What's the turnaround time?
  6. Your service sounds expensive; can we afford it?
  7. We don't know much about your service and don't want to take risks.
  8. How will your technology interface with our campus IT systems?


Question: How do you ensure the quality of the feedback?

Answer:

  • Know-How: As former university professors, we know what faculty expect to see in student assignments and how to capture student learning outcomes data for administrators.
  • People: Our Virtual-TAs have a Masters or PhD and come from a wide array of academic disciplines. They work with your faculty, familiarize themselves with the course and all its requirements. They are trained in the art of providing rich, written feedback that is timely, specific, constructive in tone, encouraging of sustained effort and actionable (in that the student should be able to complete an academic task better the next time around.)
  • Process:Our services were designed based on a systematic mapping and documentation of every step in the typical grading process, in turn, ensuring quality, accuracy and replicability. We engage with faculty weeks before the start of a semester to understand the "personality" of the course, becoming familiar with the textbook, supplementary readings and web-based resources. All feedback provided is related to the student learning outcomes (SLOs) the course/ program is seeking to impart. Such granular, SLO-centric feedback and the accompanying rubrics-based scoring are in line with best-practices in course-embedded assessment.
  • Technology: We use a web-based medium that allows us to capture and monitor every single comment (technologically) inserted by our Virtual-TAs. Their work is then quality-assured by PhD-qualified professionals in the academic discipline. So, even before the graded assignments reach the professor, they've been checked for accuracy, academic standard and adherence to the instructor¬ís pedagogical preferences by a supervisor at our end.


Question: Won't instructors lose control over the process?

Answer: In fact, quite the contrary! Instructors are at the center of our process. They craft the assignments and specify (and attach weights to) student learning outcomes. There is an interim check, in which the instructor is invited to review a small sample (10%) of the graded assignments. Only after the instructor has signed off at this stage will the rest of the assignments be worked on. All of this happens via a simple web-enabled, menu-driven interface. Our TAs also prepare a summative report for the instructor, specifying where students did well, where they stumbled, what concepts need reinforcing/ repeating in class the following week, etc.


Question: Will instructors have access to and visibility into the grading process?

Answer: The instructor can log into our system 24x7 and view the grading-in-progress. In fact, we send an email alert to the faculty member to do an interim check after 10-15% of the assignments have been graded; that way, we get the instructor's sign-off before proceeding to grade the remaining papers. Our standard turnaround time is 4-5 days from receiving the electronic assignments, so that the instructor has 2-3 days to look over the feedback, change, add or modify the comments.


Question: Wouldn't you be interfering in the instructor-student relationship?

Answer: We have no direct contact with students. We are at the service of the institution and its instructors. We provide instructors with a student-ID-scrambling utility that ensures a double-blind grading process. In addition to having access to all the individual-student feedback, professors receive a summary report for the class that points out the highlights from the grading of that assignment. This report further ensures that faculty members are aware of how students did and can hence adjust their teaching (content, pace, style, design of assignments) based on the summative feedback.


Question: Your process looks time-consuming. What's the turnaround time?

Answer: The turnaround time for classes that meet once a week is 4-5 days, leaving the instructor 2-3 days to review, add or modify the comments, if he/she chooses to do so. In classes that meet more frequently, we will adjust turnaround times accordingly.


Question: Your service sounds expensive; can we afford it?

Answer:The Virtual-TA service is priced very affordably. Our price-per-student-assignment works out to less than what it costs institutions using on-campus TAs, let alone what it costs them when professors provide rich-feedback grading. There are three ways in which your institution can defray the cost of the service. First, unburdening professors from the laborious task of rich-feedback grading means that you can afford to run slightly-larger classes. Of course, there is a pedagogical limit to class-size, but increasing class-size by up to 15-25% will, in most instances, not adversely affect the quality of the learning experience. If anything, our rich-feedback grading will enhance, not detract from, the learning experience. Second, where institutions can overcome the constraints posed by any rigid collective-bargaining agreements, faculty might be persuaded to teach marginally more in exchange for not having to grade. Adding one class to a 2+2-course workload is not a huge additional burden and might even save the professor time, when compared with the time spent on grading for four classes. Even at teaching-intensive institutions, going from workloads of 3+3 to 4+4 may actually free the professor’s time.


Question: We don't know much about your service and don't want to take risks.

Answer: That's why we offer you the option of trying out services in one of two ways:

  1. Sample: This is the quickest and simplest way to try out our Virtual-TA service. You would typically arrange to send us (in electronic format) a random sample of say 5-6 assignments (ideally split between qualitative and quantitative courses and across freshman-year through senior-year courses).
  2. Semester-long pilot program: In this kind of pilot program, you would select, say, 8 courses, typically 2 courses (qualitative and quantitative) from freshman-year through senior-year classes. At the end of the semester, you get to evaluate the service, before considering a broader roll-out. Both approaches have their relative merits.


Question: How will your technology interface with our campus IT systems?

Answer: RichFeedback's technology and service are architected using the web-based services delivery model (SOAP architecture). Our service can be automated to interface with your campus learning-management system (LMS). We designed our work processes as follows to suit your preference:

  1. Automated: Interface with your campus LMS to get assignments and any other course-related documents (syllabus, etc.) from the LMS. To enable this, we will need to work with your IT team. The advantage is that when the students submit their assignments, a copy of each is retained in the LMS. Then the interface ships them to our system, where the grading can begin, all without the intervention of the faculty member.
  2. Semi-automated: This is the most preferred method with our current customers. Your faculty member downloads student-submitted assignments from your campus LMS into his/her computer’s local directory, runs a simple student-ID-scrambler utility, and then uploads the assignments into our system through a simple and intuitive web-based interface. We have ensured that there are checks in place to make sure the assignments are uploaded correctly and that faculty members receive automated notification in the form of emails.
  3. Email: In cases when faculty do not use their campus-based LMS, we can work with them via email, though we would still need student-identities scrambled before we receive batches of assignments via email. Note: This is not our preferred method, since it can slow down the process and add to our turnaround time. We will gladly run a tutorial for instructors to guide them through the process of downloading assignments from the campus LMS, scrambling student-identities and uploading them into our system.

To set up a meeting or to get
more information, e-mail us at sales@richfeedback.com


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