Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Efficiencies in Assessments through Technology

Over the past year at MMU, I have promoted various technologies and tools to help encourage staff to get more involved with eLearning. I'm now working on a couple of posts to provide short (ish) Case Studies to exemplify real word activities and what might be achieved with technological implementations.

This first case study is about a project I led in a previous role, and have supported (to some extent) here at MMU, related to redesigning everyday business processes to manage the assessment life cycle more efficiently.

What was the Problem?

For quite some time, students have been making their views known about the efficiency (or lack thereof) of the assessment -- feedback cycle; in short, students want feedback quicker, and in a form that they can understand (opposed to unreadable hand-written feedback).

Licensed under CC-NC-ND from Flickr User UBC Library
Secondly, the economic and environmental impact, and the costs associated to printing hundreds and thousands of essays were (and are) significant. Removing this can only be seen as positive!


Well, a strategic decision was made by the Dean (of a Faculty in a previous role elsewhere) and other senior colleagues. The decision was that all assessments (that were suitable - mainly essays) should be managed through TurnItIn, including the submission, marking and feedback processes.
(I think if the truth be told, this strategic decision hadn't considered what would be required to actually get this working, but that's where I came in).

What did we do?

It was essential that a working group was formed to scope out and oversee the project - this multi-professional group involved academic staff, learning technology experts/managers, senior administrative staff, and academic managers (including Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning).

After initial discussions amongst the group, I worked with the Programme Team Leader and senior academic colleagues to scope out and timeline existing processes, including hand-in dates, how submissions were handled and recorded, passed to markers, moderators, etc. From this we could then identify where technology and new processes were required.

So what were the new processes?

  • All students were informed of the new processes at the beginning of the semester
  • Students were encouraged to submit a draft (but preferably a formative) piece of work to TurnItIn at least two weeks before the coursework due date. This was largely to overcome any technical barriers that inevitably occur when students submit 5 minutes before the deadline.
  • Programme team would monitor submissions within the VLE before, at, and after the deadline, and inform markers of papers to mark (this often included a number of academic staff to split large groups of students - 200+).
  • Markers would view papers in TurnItIn and use Grademark facilities to leave in-text and general comments on papers, as well as a grade.
  • Programme team would download the Gradebook and inform second markers/moderators to log in and mark/moderate.
  • Programme team could mass download papers for archiving, as well as download marks into Excel to be reformatted and uploaded to the student record system.
  • Students could retrieve marks and electronic feedback from within TurnItIn

What were the benefits of the new processes?

  • Students were no longer required to travel to campus from across the country to submit coursework
  • Easier/Quicker for staff to leave common comments on student work through developing a QuickMark set, which could be drag & dropped onto student work
  • Electronic feedback and grades much easier to understand
  • Manual handling times reduced due to electronic procedures
  • Staff didn't need to carry a small suitcase to take scripts home with them - it's all in the cloud!
  • Printing completely removed - massive economic and environmental benefits - a sample of 6 first-year units saved over 7500 sheets of paper, or 15 reams of paper!

What support was provided?

  • Specific training sessions for academic and administrative staff, including guides and screencasts
  • Guides and Screencasts for students 
  • Faculty guidelines for the use of Turnitin and Grademark
  • Assignment template for students, including front cover and pre-formatted pages

What challenges did we face?

  • A major challenge was training all Faculty staff in the workings of TurnItIn and Grademark, and informing them of the new policies. 
  • Technically, we only came across one problem - we found that at various times, Grademark facilities became really slow - so much so that it seriously hindered the ability to mark and leave feedback. Using Firefox seemed to help this a great deal though.

Where next?

Turnitin & Grademark have an interesting feature called Rubrics, which could further enhance online marking. Furthermore, the developments in relation to tablet computing could lead to some interesting pilot projects - word has it TurnItIn will be releasing a dedicated iPad app next year!

Have you used any of these tools in your teaching/learning?

Are you using technology effectively in your teaching and want to feature on a case study here?

This case study has used the JISC Case Study template as a basis.

Please use the comments section to get involved in discussion. 

Creative Commons License
This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License, however image work might contain alternative licenses.


    1. we used it as an opportunity to re-write all our marking criteria into rubrics. My advice when attempting such a radical move is bung in as much innovation as possible. Next step, Peermark :-)
      Our biggest ongoing challenge is when using anonymous marking and allocating the papers to students by asking them to give their student ID into the 'submission title' box. From 70-95% get this right. Those that dont cause our admin staff headaches. iParadigms just do not 'get' the idea that somewhere in the world they might want to use 2nd marking/moderation, even though it seems just a tweak away...
      Please use all the leverage you can at any point with turnitinUK to make the case for this.

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