Profile 1

 

Profile 1: Working towards Efficiency Improvements, ‘Getting there faster’

Are you frustrated with the amount of time you spend on mundane administrative tasks around assignment management and marking? What about using e-learning tools to lighten this load, so you can focus your energies on assisting student learning? This profile focuses on easy to follow steps towards efficiency improvements. It only refers to general purpose software and the standard features of common learning management systems and shows how to use these tools to speed up the processes around dealing with assignments. Working in a tertiary institution you should have access to all the tools mentioned and a support structure of e-learning advisors, should you require some assistance.

Supporting students with assignments

The lecturer needs to inform students about the assignment details. These need to contain the assignment specifications and instructions on how and when to submit the assignment. Additional information, like a marking rubric or criteria, helps to clarify the lecturer’s expectations. Making these documents available via the LMS used for the course has the advantage of providing a single access point. This removes the need to deal with students who have lost assignment instructions. Assignment documents can be made available as part of the general content modules or via the assignment tools. Using the assignment modules has the benefit of preparing the LMS for student submission of assignments.

Submission of assignments

Traditionally, paper copies of assignments are posted or hand-delivered to admin staff or dropped into departmental assignment boxes. Someone, either admin staff or the lecturers themselves, needs to record submission time and safe keep the assignment papers until marking. Common problems are delays in postal delivery, lost assignments and the time spent on administration. Moving to electronic submission of assignments, especially via the assignment tool of an LMS, automates many of these tasks. Assignments are date and time stamped at submission. You can choose various settings, regulating options of late submission and cut-off dates. If setup accordingly, students can re-submit work, allowing them to fine-tune their work right to the submission deadline without having the fear of missing this deadline, due to last minute technical problems, for example. LMS are setup on an institutional basis. This means that a central IT section guarantees service, data security and safety. The welcome effect for you as a lecturer is that issues like assignment backup are taken care off.
Some lecturers prefer the use of electronic submission via email to the use of an LMS assignment tool. If your class size is fairly small, this might be a viable option. You still gain a number of advantages, mainly having electronic copies of the assignments available to you. Yet, in contrast to using an LMS assignment tool, you will have to perform most administrative tasks manually.
Students like electronic submission. They will generally produce their assignments on a computer so submitting electronically removes their need to print. As electronic submission is instantaneous students can work right up to the submission deadline. An electronic submission receipt, can be sent automatically by an LMS providing peace of mind.

Preparation of marking

A detailed marking rubric or scheme will guide your marking and will make it easier for the students to understand your evaluation of their work. If you develop this document electronically it can be used as a template from which to copy and paste, reducing the amount of typing for each assignment. You can also prepare a separate document with frequently used feedback comments for reuse through copy and pasting. This allows you to give substantial feedback on common problem areas while still being able to individualise these comments.
Should you be marking in a team it might pay to setup a folder with shared access. You can download the assignments from your LMS to this folder or store the assignments received via email there. Having all assignments in one place has the advantage that tasks like unzipping or decompressing files only have to be done once. You might want to arrange with markers to store their marking documents in this shared folder as well, making it easier for you to coordinate their work.

Marking

Lecturers use various ways of providing comments ranging from inserting comments directly into the student work and summary comments at the end of assignments to separate feedback sheets. With a bit of planning all of these methods can be used on electronic documents. The advantages of providing feedback in electronic form are faster document exchange, automatic retention of  copies of the feedback comments and the increased legibility of typed comments.
Word processing software like Microsoft Word offers ‘track changes’ or ‘comments’ features for inline editing or feedback. Alternatively, you may just want to add your comments in a different font or colour. The advantage of the ‘comments’ feature in Word is that it clearly differentiates the marker's comments from the student's work. It also reduces the impact on the formatting of the student's work. General comments can be added to the end of the document. PDF writer software, like Adobe Professional, also provides a commenting feature. You can combine any of these options with maintaining a list of frequently used comments that you copy and paste and individualise as required. It is best to think about your commenting approach early on so you can instruct students to submit assignments in the appropriate document format.
Filling out electronic copies of feedback sheets is possible even if students have submitted on paper. These sheets can be returned via email, still retaining some of the advantages of electronic feedback.

Keeping records

Marking done in electronic form, either directly in the assignments or on separate sheets, means that the lecturer automatically retains a copy, after returning the marking to the students. Having this copy is very helpful in case students ask for clarification on any aspect of the marking. Additionally, having copies of all marked assignments makes analysis on a class level much easier.
In many institutions student marks need to be recorded in special result processing systems students do not have access to. If marks are recorded electronically, for example in the assignment tool of an LMS, they can be transferred via standard file formats, alleviating the need for manual re-entry.

Releasing results and providing feedback

Releasing marks and feedback electronically means that all students have access to them instantly. This avoids problems with postal delays and the issues of confidentiality when handing assignments back in class without checking the identity of each student. If you return the results via the assignment tool of the LMS you have the additional advantage of one access point for all students, avoiding problems with incorrect email addresses and full mail boxes.

Using assignment experience for future teaching

To review overall class performance you might want to calculate some simple statistics like average marks. If you have used the assignment tools of your LMS this happens automatically, without any extra work for you. If you have stored the marks in another electronic format you should be able to import these marks into a spreadsheet program.

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