Midrand, South Africa
In education, part of the learning process is to assess and evaluate students. It has been used as a tool to measure results of what has been taught. Most students and teachers were used to traditional grading with pen and paper marked with a number or letter, and in some cases, a happy or sad face – thankfully, things have changed for better.
Online marking has become a tool that benefits both students and teachers. Lelanie Judeel, Academic Development Coordinator at Independent Institute of Education (IIE) Varsity College (VC) and Research Psychologist at the University of South Africa, is an expert that has extensively studied and prove that online marking will make life easier for all of those involved in the process. Lelanie started using Blackboard Learn in 2014, and by 2015 IIE Varsity College partnered with the platform to create VC Learn, which is now used by 12,000 students in their 8 college campuses.
It all goes back to the case study she did as part of her psychology internship about online marking as a formative teaching tool. The results were clear and summarized in 7 themes:
1. Onscreen marking improved efficiency because the ‘rubrics’ or Grading Feedback Forms provided a clear and uniform structure.
2. Quality of assignment marking improved, thanks to formative comments that can be quickly added without individually typing each student’s comments.
3. It helped both students and teachers because it identified individual and group strengths and weaknesses.
4. Targeted feedback prepared students for future assessments because it explained mistakes in a non-confrontational setting.
5. Advantages like automatic calculation function and high quality comments saved time and made feedback more effective.
6. Time taken to mark reduced as the instructor learned how to use the tool.
7. Learning and statistical data can identify problem areas and is a good source of information moving forward.
With that said, Lelanie Judeel explains that online marking itself is not automatically a formative teaching tool.
“My online marking project required a blend of three interrelated elements. First, a learning management system, such as Blackboard Learn, allows assignments to be submitted electronically. The second element is a tool that could host the comments, such as the grading rubrics in Blackboard Learn or a tool designed by an institution, such as the University of South Africa’s tool for onscreen marking. The third aspect is predefined formative comments.”
What makes this type of grading different than traditional grading is that the Grading Feedback Forms used by Judeel are not meant to help teachers give a qualification, but are student centered. Specifically, the Grading Feedback Forms she developed for onscreen marking include 3 essential elements:
1. Feed up: Find the purpose of what you are doing and where are you going
2. Feedback: Analyze what worked and what doesn’t
3. Feed forward: Look to the future and what you can do next. This means that the assessment is not measured in the traditional context of right or wrong; it measures the development of valuable skills on a progressive scale according to what was expected from the assignment.
Problems of traditional pen and paper marking can easily shift to digital marking as well; the difference is in the solution given. Plagiarism obstacles have drastically changed because marking offline leads to a tireless manual process to investigate a possible plagiarism case. While online, you can use a plagiarism checking system that will automatically identify the source of where the student obtained the information. The efficiency of the system make students think twice and be careful with the sources they use for their work.
Another aspect that can be analyzed is the attention given to students before, during, and after they hand in their work. In this case, online marking is utilized as a support system for each student, which reinforces personalized education. In Varsity College’s case, this further enhances the teachers’ ability to get to know students, interests, and opinions.
Part of the change from traditional to online marking is adapting to a new work environment. Teachers were used to mark in pen and paper, carrying the assignments throughout the campus, and dedicating a lot of time to the marking process. Although adapting to a new way to do things can be difficult, it was proven by Lelanie’s case study that once teachers got to understand and use the tool frequently, it took the same or less time to mark assignments.
The University of South Africa (UNISA) is a great example of adapting to the new process. They benefitted from the fact that Blackboard Learn can be used with specifically designed marking tools and created a solution for their Internet connection problems “We rank as only the 90th fastest average connection speed in the world so in practice, while you load a YouTube video in South Africa, you can press the down arrow to play a game of Snake before the video loads. Data released in 2016 indicates that the average monthly cost of broadband in South Africa is more than 10 times higher than in the UK,” explains Lelanie.
With their tool, teachers are still able to mark onscreen, wherever they are and then when they have internet access they can upload assignments, proving that online marking can definitely make life easier for any education process – that’s what it is all about.
*Lelanie Judeel, Academic Development Co-ordinator at IIE Verasity College, South Africa.
*Photos by: AFP John Wessels