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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.