Case Study - Technology Assisted Marking

I have been using Blackboard’s computer marked assignment tools for about five years now, both for formative and summative assessments. I teach quite large cohorts and have found that the tools enable me to maximise the delivery of personalised feedback without me killing myself in terms of marking time. Students devote a lot of time to assignments so it seems important that each one is a learning process for them - as well as being a way for me to assess where they are.

Blackboard Screen Shot

With some thought, it is possible to design computer-marked-questions that require students to do some quite sophisticated thinking. I try and set mine up so that they can only get the right answer if they have thought really hard. I also try to add the distractor answers that result from commonly repeated misunderstandings in calculation steps, and again this enables me to direct feedback that is meaningful for each student personally. All of my computer marked questions have individual feedback for each possible answer, while it is true that setting this up was initially time-consuming the value I know it adds for students makes the investment worthwhile.

We usually use class time to administer the formative assignments because my cohorts have access to computer labs. Once the marks are calculated and the students have read the feedback on their individual responses, I can add an additional layer of personalisation for them. Blackboard lets me quickly identify students that overall have struggled and those that have excelled. I subsequently send out email to either congratulate or to offer additional support.

For summative assignments I use a combination of open answer style questions and computer marked questions. Marking the open-answer questions, especially in very large cohorts, will always be a bit tedious but Blackboard has single-question-marking functionality that probably makes the process about as efficient as it can be. As well as allowing me to mark more quickly and consistently, single-question-marking makes it easier to divide the workload between my marking team. The system is of course not perfect, for example, I would much prefer the student to get feedback immediately after answering each question instead of having to wait for the end of the test, but this year we turned around a summative assessment in 72 hours. A third of those questions were open answer and the cohort consisted of 240 students. I’m not sure that would have been possible with a traditional paper-based submission and per-student, rather than per-question, marking workload allocation.

I was very pleased this year to discover that we now have the SITS/Blackboard integration. We had a couple of hiccups with the grades flow (mainly because I thought I needed to set up the journey from the Blackboard side), but in the end all the grades were replicated in both systems and I am looking forward to using it again next year.

Al Grant