Uncoding Grades: Autograding Tool Improves Student Performance

  OIT News  |  Sep 12, 2022  |  By Nicole Johnson
Two rows of computers with person sitting in middle

Computer science students at UNLV are performing better in computer programming courses, thanks to a new autograding tool.

Solely used for computer science courses, CodeGrade is a software program that grades assignments instantly and provides automatic feedback to students about their code, covering C++, Python, and other programming languages. This way, students immediately receive their score and have time to fix their code and resubmit it before the deadline.

Dr. Ed Jorgensen, a computer science professor in the college of engineering, saw a need for an autograding tool after he and other instructors would spend countless hours manually grading hundreds of assignments. He could have never imagined the impact CodeGrade would have on student performance.

Because CodeGrade is automated, Jorgensen said that he can dedicate more time to focusing on students’ unique needs.

“CodeGrade allows us to engage and give feedback to students too, going line by line and making comments,” he said. “With personalized feedback, students are much more likely to learn the concepts and do better on assignments.”

The software program was piloted during the 2021-22 academic year in three computer science courses to a combined 1,100 students. CodeGrade was selected because it met many university requirements, including security, privacy, and accessibility standards.

“They came to us with a need to automate the grading process in the spring of 2021,” said Mark Kasselhut, senior e-learning technology program manager for the office of information technology. “After our initial evaluation of several products, we recommended CodeGrade because it was compatible with many existing IT systems and could be easily integrated into WebCampus.” 

Before CodeGrade, scoring varied depending on who was grading the assignment. CodeGrade eliminated human deviation and made everything more consistent across different course sections, according to Jorgensen. It also has a built-in plagiarism detector that is specifically designed for code, similar to the TurnItIn software that checks writing for plagiarism. 

Feedback from students, instructors, and teaching assistants (TAs) has been positive. Alex St. Aubin, a computer science instructor, described his experience in a case study published on CodeGrade’s website.

“CodeGrade has really made our lives easier. The lives of the TAs, the students, the teachers,” he said. “We can focus more on helping the students and making sure that they’re understanding those concepts and focusing on reinforcing those concepts.” 

CodeGrade has proven to be a valuable tool. With the positive reception, the autograding tool will expand to all undergraduate core classes in the computer science program for the fall semester, which will help with the influx of students pursuing a computer programming degree.

As the computer science industry continues to boom, the need for skilled coders is rapidly growing. With the help of CodeGrade, Jorgensen and his fellow professors can help the next generation of codemasters hone their skills and prepare them for the workforce.