When I became the director of the Shaw University Writing Center in August of 2016, the university was moving toward using Aqua and Taskstream by Watermark for data analysis. Though I knew nothing of the Aqua software before that time, I looked forward to anything that would help with the assessment of our ENG 110 classes.
As a part of our university’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) for SACSCOC, we give students timed essays on the first and last day of class to measure their growth in writing skills. Before Aqua, the essays had to be put into random order, made anonymous, and converted to PDF manually. Then, the essays had to be zipped in batches and emailed to faculty for scoring. Additionally, we had to utilize separate software to collect the scores of individual essays. Then, the essays had to be scored and the numbers compiled manually. Some semesters had more than 400 students, which meant hours of work just to prepare for scoring.
With Aqua, everything changed! Now, setting up our rubrics and adding new projects is intuitive and user-friendly. Students submit their papers to Aqua directly through the LMS, and the software randomizes the essays and gets them ready to score. Each essay is scored twice for validity, which is accomplished in Aqua with the touch of a button. The scoring process is also easier in Aqua, since the essays, rubric, and scoring tool are in one place. The software then compiles all the data for us. Because scoring is so easy in Aqua, some of our scorers describe the process as “addictive.”
Instead of looking through folders in my computer, Aqua gives me a single point of access and visibility to all our data. And because Aqua exports to Excel, I can analyze data outside of the platform relatively easily—such as when comparing students’ pretest scores to their post test scores.
Beyond our QEP, I’ve been thinking about ways of using Aqua to support other areas of assessment. I’m considering using the software to compare essays from students who attend the Writing Center to those who don’t. Professors from any class can email papers to me that I can quickly load into Aqua and then score myself or with a team of other scorers.
Looking back at our how our processes have evolved and improved since we implemented Aqua, I truly can’t imagine conducting our assessments without it.
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