abgaben.el: assignment correction with emacs

Posted on Mon 13 November 2017 in software

Part of my job at the university is teaching and that entails correcting assignments. In the old days, I would receive the assignments by email, print them, write comments in the margins, give points for the assignments and hand them back. This approach has two downsides:

  • assignments are done by groups of 2-3 students but only one would have my commented version
  • I wouldn't have my own comments afterwards.

Therefore I switched to digital comments on the pdf. I would then send the annotated pdf to the students. Because it took a lot of time (~30min every week) to find the correct email, send the emails etc, I wrote a small package to help with that: abgaben.el

I assume that you use mu4e for your emails. I ususally have several classes every semester – this semester I have one on monday (“montag”) and one on wednesday (“mittwoch”).

My workflow is as follows:

When I get an email, I save the assignment using the attachment action provided by abgaben.el. It asks for the group (montag/mittwoch in my case) and the week (01 in this example). Both questions remember your answer and will use it as a default for the next invocation. It then saves the attachment to the correct directory (abgaben-root-folder/montag/01/) and will create a new entry in your org mode file (abgaben-org-file, which needs to have a generic heading as well as your group headings in place), linking the assignment and the email:

You get the attachment action by adding something like this:

(add-to-list 'mu4e-view-attachment-actions
    '("gsave assignment" . abgaben-capture-submission) t)

The first character of the string is the shortcut. In this case, you need to press A gA for mu4e attachment actions and then g to invoke abgaben-save-abgabe.

Then you can annotate the assignment with pdf-tools or whatever program you like. You could also sync the files to your tablet and annotate them there. Afterwards, call abgaben-export-pdf-annot-to-org to export your annotations into the org file. That command will also check for points and create a new subheading listing all points as well as a sum. (Because I batch process the assignments, I usually only have to press M-x M-p <RET>…)

You can then send the annotated pdf to your students by calling abgaben-prepare-reply. The function will store a reply with the exported annotations, the points overview and the annotated pdf as attachment in your kill ring and open the original email by your students. Press R to reply, C-y to insert your reply, modify if needed, and send the email. You are done!

(For some reason, I re-exported the annotations in this video, but it is a really cool feature worth to be seen twice!)

Now you have an org file with all your annotations exported (and ready to reuse if several groups make the same mistake…), the points neatly summarized and all relevant data linked.

You can customize the relevant aspects of abgaben.el by M-x customize-group <RET> abgaben <RET>.

The package might soon be available via melpa, but for now you'll have to download it and install it via package-install-file. is availble via melpa.

If you end up using this package or parts of it, drop me an email!

Update Dec 2017: The package now also supports archives, e.g. for source code submission. These are extracted into a new folder and that folder is linked in the org file.