Second Screens for Successful Online Teaching

This summer, I’ve been teaching an intensive 7-week online course in Public Relations and Strategic Communication. The nature of our online class has meant that my students have been engaged in an extraordinary amount of PR writing for the web. Many have learned, through practice, the values of writing for the audience and the vehicle of delivery and are well-primed for high-level internships with companies and non-profits in their community relations and social-media management offices.

In traditional grading scenarios, I sit with student papers and my triad of pen, pencil, and highlighter, bringing out the occasional Sharpie if the situation warrants. But digital grading is different. I need to be able to follow links, watch videos, and consume hyperlinks. So, my challenge in handling all this writing on the web has been establishing a method of grading that allows me to both consume their work in a digital and hyperlinked format, and to comment substantively on this writing. So, I hacked a second-screen approach to commenting and grading:

outside-grading (956x1024)My third screen, the iPhone, is reserved for
emails, calls, and taking pictures of my other two screens.

This dual-device approach has worked so well for web content that I had to share it. Using the iPad allows me to peruse my students’ excellent web copy, clinking on links and investigating sources while living in the course’s learning management system (LMS) on my laptop. I comment in the LMS on the content and technical proficiency in their writing while watching their self-produced videos, listening to their audio recordings, and fully participating in their embedded media.

This strategy allows me to work outside (a must in the summer), to comment directly on student work as I consume it, and to be able to click through my student’s links without leaving my comments behind.

I’m interested to hear other techniques for assessing online student work. What’s your strategy?


  1. The first thing about this article that caught my eye, was the Starbucks cup. Of course that is the first thing I see since I’m a barista! But then I looked closer and saw the title and everything else in the picture. I have always wondered how you are able to grade all of our assignments without having to constantly click from one person’s blog to another. The technique you use to assess work is somewhat the same of when I am writing research papers for my classes. Instead of constantly clicking back and forth between Word and Chrome, I have my web browser on my Kindle Fire and only use Word on my computer. This allows me to keep my train of thought while writing, and to save time! If you’re inside due to inclement weather, try the multi-monitor approach. I love using it because it allows you to drag open windows from one screen to the other, without having to minimize everything!

  2. This photo grabbed my attention because my fiancé and I were just talking about how we never use our Ipad, except for “fun” things. It is cool to hear about how an IPad can be utilized for really productive purposes as well. It is always so nice to be able to work outside too! I have often wondered how in the world you would keep up with all student comments but this makes sense and if I ever get more into blogging, I can see how a dual-device system would be a smart choice. I too use my iphone as for just calling/emailing/photos. Do you have a system for shutting down your screens? As in, when do you say, all screens, off? I find it hard but necessary to due to keep my sanity!

  3. Excellent suggestion, Dr. McArthur. I will definitely try this out in my first online class.

  4. Great suggestions. My question is when you grade a student’s online work where do you post comments/feedback about the technical aspects of their work (comments that are grade related)? Is there a particular tool that you use in your LMS?

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