Tools to help lecturers mark assignments

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Tools to help lecturers mark assignments

  • John Milne
  • Eva Heinrich

About the project

  • Dr Eva Heinrich and John Milne, Massey University
  • Professor Luanna Meyer and Bruce Granshaw, Victoria University Wellington
  • Professor Terry Crooks, University of Otago
  • Maurice Moore, UCOL
  • Tertiary Education Commission eCDF scheme

Aims of the project

  • Help lecturers provide feedback to students on assignments such as essays, reports, design diagrams and computer programs using etools.
  • Feedback on assignments that require professional expertise of the lecturer.

Direction from the literature

  • A lot of work on assessment.
  • 580 journals and conference proceedings searched
  • Not much on using computers to help with essay-type assignments.

What is the most important factor that influences student learning?

  • The presence and quality of feedback
  • Hattie, 1999
  • Tasks students do
  • Student motivation
  • High expectations
  • Time on task
  • Lecturer’s enthusiasm
  • Effective use of technology
  • Prerequisite experience

'could try harder'

  • The Times August 24, 2006
  • “ England’s university teachers are pretty poor at meeting deadlines or explaining difficult concepts.”
  • “ Only 51 per cent provided prompt feedback to their students last year, and the same percentage were able to clarify things their students did not understand, according to the second National Student Satisfaction Survey, published yesterday.”

The student view

  • subject specific feedback comes too late
  • problems with feedback: too general, too impersonal, too little information, 40% say handwriting is a problem
  • often assessment criteria are not clear to students (refers especially to 'qualitative' areas where there is no absolute right or wrong?)
  • Higgins, R., Hartley, P. & Skelton, A. (2002). The conscientious consumer: Reconsidering the role of assessment feedback in student learning. Studies in Higher Education, 27, 53-64.

The student view continued

  • students want feedback and want to learn from it
  • 97% of students read the feedback
  • 82% of students say they pay close attention to feedback (but the question is what that means and if they need better reflective skills)
  • feedback needs to be given asap
  • needs to explain things in a language students understand;
  • discussion with students on assessment criteria might help as might peer-feedback
  • Higgins, R., Hartley, P. & Skelton, A. (2002). The conscientious consumer: Reconsidering the role of assessment feedback in student learning. Studies in Higher Education, 27, 53-64.

Seven principles of good feedback practice

  • Helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria);
  • Facilitates the development of self-assessment and reflection in learning;
  • Delivers high quality information to students about their learning;
  • Encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning;
  • Encourages positive motivational beliefs and self esteem;
  • Provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance;
  • Provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching.
  • Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006)

Ideal computer marking and management tool

  • Electronic student submission of various file types
  • A way of providing feedback that is easy to use
  • Centralised pre-testing for plagiarism
  • A comments bank that is easy to edit and develops during marking
  • The support of marking schemes, from simple to sophisticated
  • Automatic grade and report computation
  • Electronic storage of marked work, feedback, marks
  • Easy links to university central systems
  • Stephens, Sargent, & Brew (2001)

Specialist tools


  • Lecturers who use technology to help with the marking and management of assignments.

Survey participants

Survey participants

Survey participants

Clarify good performance

  • Yes
  • 51
  • No
  • 3
  • Unassigned
  • 34

Return feedback then marks?

  • Yes
  • 5
  • No
  • 69
  • Unassigned
  • 14

Return feedback then marks?

  • Return individual feedback first, then when all marking complete make general feedback available with marks via the LMS.
  • General feedback first, then individual feedback and marks.

Opportunities to close the gap

  • Draft submission and provide feedback then final submission and marking.
  • Resubmissions
  • Assignments build upon each other, early feedback directly relevant to later assignments.

Survey results

  • Submission of assignments
  • LMS (Moodle, Blackboard etc)
  • 33%
  • Specialised Systems
  • 10%
  • Email
  • 17%
  • Paper
  • 5%
  • Paper & Electronic
  • 35%


  • manage electronic submission
  • organise marking teams
  • integrate marking scheme into student feedback
  • share feedback with marking team
  • quick return of feedback to students
  • evaluate feedback

What do lecturers do?

  • Learning management system and Word
  • Specialist systems
  • Assessi, WebCTconnect, Grademark

Assistance available

  • Guiding the individual lecturer


  • Profile 1: Getting there faster
  • Working towards Efficiency Improvements
  • Profile 2: Getting there better
  • Working towards Quality Improvements
  • Profile 3: Stepping outside the conventional
  • Moving beyond standard tool use

Action Plan

  • Start of Course Planning
  • Release of Official Course Documentation
  • Announcement of Assignment Task
  • Assignment Submission Deadline
  • Release of Marking Results
  • End of Course
  • End of Course Review


  • Assessment by assignments is of highest educational value.
  • Strong opportunities exist for using e-learning technologies, tools and approaches to facilitate essay-type assessment.
  • E-learning technologies, used for the appropriate pedagogical reasons, show a high potential for improvements in the assessment area.

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