Profile 3

 

Profile 3: Moving beyond Standard Tool Use/Extending Assessment Design, ‘Stepping outside the conventional’

The first two profiles describe the use of standard tools for a standard assignment process. This third profile will be of interest to you if you are prepared to step outside the conventional. This can be to explore specialist assignment tools or to continue with the standard tools but use these in more imaginative ways. Your motivation might be to provide further educational benefits, to gain efficiency or to target both. As specialist assignment marking tools have been designed with marking problems in mind, a gain in both areas is possible.

Using non-standard tools will mean that you will have to get active to gain access to these tools and be willing to experiment. These tools are not difficult to use but like for any new tool, you will have to put some effort into their exploration. It might pay to work on a smaller pilot first until you have gained confidence. Some of the tools will only affect your side, the marker side, and not the students. This will make it easier for you to experiment, as you won’t risk adverse reactions from the students.

You may have already thought about more involved assessment designs and quality control of the marking process, but might have hesitated because of the additional effort required. The use of standard tools beyond the conventional can help you to address these issues.

Most of the approaches discussed in this profile permeate the stages of the assignment process. This section has therefore been structured by themes and not by the stages.

Group assignments

Lecturers use group assignments for pedagogical or practical reasons. The questions that typically arise with group submissions are: Does only one group member submit the assignment on behalf of the group or does everyone submit? Are all submitted copies of one group identical? How do I ensure that all group members receive feedback? How do I make sure that I record marks for each group member? For large classes these questions result in considerable administrative overheads.
Some of the specialist tools address these issues. They facilitate the grouping of students by either explicit definition of groups or by automated detection of group membership based on the assignment submitted. During marking the tools associate feedback and marks with all group members, while giving you the option of providing the same or different marks to individuals. All group members will receive marking results automatically.

Working with markers

Working with markers poses challenges in administrative overhead and consistency control. Some of the specialist tools help you with these challenges. The tools facilitate the sharing of marking rubrics. They allow you to assign markers to assignments, for example through an initial random distribution which can be adjusted manually should the need arise. The marking of all the individual markers is integrated by the tools into one overview. This allows you to easily monitor progress and to implement schemes of consistency checking. As marking with electronic tools retains copies of all marked assignments you will have a record of who marked which assignments and of all marking comments. This is very helpful when students ask you for clarification, as you immediately have access to the marker’s comments. Combining all markers’ feedback and marks, in total and per marking rubric, into one environment, assists with the analysis of the overall class performance. This in turn helps in your teaching preparation for current and future classes.

Plagiarism

Unfortunately plagiarism can be a major issue, with students copying work among each other and from external sources. Plagiarism detection tools help you to spot potential plagiarism. The tools compare student work on a class level and against ever increasing repositories of previous student work and publicly available material. Some of the plagiarism detection tools are combined with marking tools, addressing questions of marking rubrics, feedback and bookkeeping. You can also use a combination of tools, a specialist tool for plagiarism detection followed by the marking tool of your choice.

Focus on the formative process

One common concern around assignment marking is that students do not pay attention to the feedback provided to them and that therefore the formative effect is lost. To combat this problem one can extend the standard assignment process of submission and return to encourage involvement with the feedback. This can mean returning marked assignments with only formative feedback initially, with marks either delayed or only provided after a student response to the feedback. Some lecturers allow resubmission of assignments in response to formative feedback. Peer-assessment processes can encourage students to engage with the assignment topics on a deeper level.
While some of the specialist tools support such processes directly, you can already achieve a lot with just using standard tools like LMS. For example, you could setup a two-part assignment, where the first submission serves largely formative purposes and the second expects the revised version. In a similar fashion the first submission could tackle a standard assignment task, the second submission would focus on student assessment of the work of their peers. Using a standard LMS you would have to perform the intermittent step of making the confidential assignment submissions available to the whole class, for example via the LMS content modules. Such processes could be complemented by the use of the LMS communication tools. In selecting which tools to apply and how to combine their use it is important to consider their individual strengths, like confidentiality provided by an assignment tool, open access on class level for a content module, or shared contributions in a discussion environment.

Ways of providing comments

What has been discussed in the previous profiles is to provided written comments either by writing directly into the student work or by attaching separate marking sheets. Some specialist marking tools add to this by allowing the marker to link their comments with the categories of the marking rubric. The advantage for the student is that the marking comments are related both directly to the context in the student’s work and to the marking criteria. Some tools further offer special pre- or marker-defined symbols, for example for spelling of grammatical mistakes that can be used to quickly point to problem areas. Another way in which some tools assist the marker is by providing various graphical highlighters that allow identifying the reference point in the student work clearly and without having to follow the textual layout.
Audio comments can be an alternative to written feedback. Using standard word processing software such audio comments can be inserted much like written comments at specific reference points in the student work. This might be an alternative for markers who have problems with typing a large number of comments, for situations where audio comments suit the subject area, or simply to create student interest in the feedback by diverting from the norm of written feedback.

Further efficiency gains

Assignment submission and management with standard LMS tools already offers efficiency gains compared to email and paper submission. Still, specialist tools provide further advantages. For the submission of multiple files students are often asked to combine these files into a single compressed file. While standard LMS can accept such files they do not automatically uncompress back to multiple files. This means manual and repetitive work for the marker if not supported by a specialist tool that can perform these tasks automatically.
It is helpful to record the marking status of an assignment as part of the marking process. In the context of quality assurance it can be required to revisit an assignment marked earlier on or to review marking done by markers. Some specialist tools allow the marker to capture such meta information within the marking environment. This integrated approach increases the efficiency and in turn makes it more likely that quality assurance steps are actually undertaken.

Further quality gains

Opportunities for quality gains in terms of coordinating and monitoring the work of markers and of keeping information of the marking status of assignments have already been mentioned. What can be added here is the use of standard LMS features to involve students in the development of the assignment task specification and the marking rubric. Discussion tools can be used by students to exchange ideas and comments. The lecturer can use the content modules of the LMS to make draft documents available to students, for example after a class discussion on assignment goals and student work towards a possible marking rubric.

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