At the start of September, I was able to attend Remaking Marking: Electronic Management of Assessment National Conference. This event brought together a number of UK HE Institutions to share “where we are now” with electronic submission, grading and assessment. The conference was run in association with the new Advance HE Interdisciplinary Network for Research-informed Assessment Practices group.
I won’t delve too deeply into any one specific presentation, but rather talk about the main theme which was the rollout of electronic submission and marking as an institutional project, and the varying approaches to that process adopted by some of the institutions represented. The overwhelming sense was that all the institutions have been running at least some sort of electronic submission system for several years and were now keen to look at something more fully-featured to really commit to electronic grading and feedback. Many had already done this and had moved forward, but still felt that there was work to do.
All of the speakers were part of projects that in the last 2-3 years had made large strides towards fully institutional projects, taking a holistic approach to Assessment (capital A). Most were running or had run full assessment policy reviews, assessment process reviews, and grading and feedback reviews to fully understand where electronic marking and grading is, within their institutions. This has allowed them to ensure that any large change in the technology, aligns with current and future institutional strategies. Buy in from stakeholders at all levels, in both the professional services and academic communities is vital when operating at this sort of scale. Although several speakers noted that large institutional projects can also become huge monsters that aren’t always easy to steer. This certainly showed in some of the experiences shared by the speakers.
The final area covered was attempts to automate grade data transfer from a VLE to a student management system. To automate anything there has to be at least some level of consistency. If we thought that submission policy was difficult to standardise, I would suggest that this is nothing in comparison to the complexity of different ways in which submissions are graded. This was illustrated by both Sheffield Hallam and Newcastle who have decided to “pencil in” that job for “sometime in the future”, and others who acknowledged that automating this process was now well down their priority list. This was in contrast however with Reading University who have decided to go ahead with automation anyway. After chatting with some of the Reading team it became clear that, like Keele, they will not be trying to satisfy every possible deviation from “the norm” as it would be far too complex.
In terms of Aston’s approach, when electronic submission came into Aston, the focus was around convenience for students and the clear administration benefits of fewer paper submissions. During this time many other Universities were also looking at electronic submission and had or were in the process of developing their own in-house products. Aston decided to use the Blackboard Assignment tool and Turnitin at the time and not try to create an in-house system. In the main, I think this was a good idea as these sorts of projects can become difficult to manage long-term and rely on extremely studious documentation from in-house development teams. Additionally, as we had, and still have, a large degree of variance between processes across 4 (now 5 schools), trying to satisfy every possible edge case would have become very complex. This was backed up by the experience of Keele University who currently run their own submission system. However, Keele has also taken an approach that specifically didn’t try to accommodate all possible edge cases and as such feel that the benefits have outweighed the drawbacks for them.
Overall, I took away from this event the same thing that I do from many of these events. No matter how you might feel about these large projects – why is it taking so long, why can’t we solve these problems, are we falling behind everyone else – the reality is that most institutions are asking the same questions and facing the same challenges. If we can all just continue to share our experience it will surely be the quickest way to overcome the challenges.