Electronic Management of Assessment (EMA)

Using technology to support the assessment lifecycle, from the electronic submission of assignments to marking and feedback.

York St John University has adopted electronic assignment submission, marking and feedback for all appropriate text-based assignments. The following documents provide further information

  1. eMarking and Feedback Policy (DOC, 89.8kB)
  2. eSubmission, Marking and Feedback Principles (DOC, 1.5MB)

The Academic Strategy 2015-20 emphasises more useful assessment and feedback for students, and continues to urge a rebalance of assessment practice to that of assessment for learning, with less of an emphasis on assessment of learning. This means feedback to students that is timely and can be acted on in order for them to improve their work. It also means a focus on the formative activities that provide students with an opportunity to develop their learning before the final summative assessments. A range of York St John pedagogic projects show how we are striving to improve the quality of assessment and feedback processes.

Visit our Assessment and Feedback webpages for more information.

What is EMA?

The term electronic management of assessment (EMA) is increasingly being used to describe the way in which technology is used across the assessment lifecycle to support the electronic submission of assignments, as well as marking and feedback.

Assessment and feedback involves the management of a complex set of business processes, especially in higher education. Many universities and colleges are seeing benefits and cost savings from using technology to support and to streamline these processes. This high level model shows the types of activity that can be supported through technology.

At a more detailed level the processes also include: assessment scheduling; submission of assignments; tracking of submissions; extension requests and approvals; academic integrity; academic misconduct processes; examinations; marks recording; moderation and external examining.

How does EMA benefit Students?

The range of benefits to students depends on how many of the associated processes are carried out electronically.

Typically many universities and colleges begin by replacing paper-based assignment submission with an online system and both off-the-shelf and bespoke systems are used.

Reported benefits of online submission for students include:

  • Convenience of not having to travel to hand in assignments
  • Avoidance of printing costs
  • Time savings and avoidance of anxiety about assignments going missing in the postal system
  • Automatic proof of receipt
  • Improved confidence provided by the privacy, safety and security of e-submission
  • Confidence of knowing work is backed up
  • Electronic reminders about deadlines and improved clarity about turnaround times for marking
  • Realistic timing of submission deadlines (eg a 23:59 deadline at the University of Huddersfield)
  • Meeting expectations – that this is normal practice in a digital age

Benefits for students increase when the end to end process is managed electronically so that marks and feedback are also delivered online. The additional benefits include:

  • Improved clarity and understanding of feedback (not least as a result of not having to decipher handwriting)
  • Improved timeliness (especially when some aspects of feedback are automated) enabling advice given on a previous assignment to be assimilated and applied in the next
  • Increased privacy when marked work is returned electronically
  • Many students report that feedback in electronic form is easier to use and therefore more likely they will revisit it at a later date.

Research shows an overall student preference for EMA and reveals that few need training to support its introduction.

It must however be remembered that there will be access and accessibility issues for a minority of learners who will require additional support.

How does EMA benefit Academic Staff?

EMA delivers both pedagogic benefits and administrative efficiencies.

The greatest benefits for academic staff are delivered when both marking and feedback are carried out electronically.

Reported benefits of online feedback and marking for academic staff include:

  • Greater transparency which has been shown to improve the standard and consistency of marking and feedback comments.
  • Improved clarity of marking and feedback (especially the ability to include lengthy comments at the appropriate point in the text).
  • Reduced workload making it feasible to assess learners’ understanding more frequently.
  • Reduced administrative burden leaving more time to focus on individuals experiencing difficulties.
  • New opportunities to improve student understanding, for example, by extracting and analysing data held in an online marking system to achieve a more timely response to errors and weaknesses.
  • Increased satisfaction when improved feedback has a positive impact on student attainment.
  • The convenience of not having to collect and carry large quantities of paper.
  • The convenience of electronic filing.
  • The security of having work backed up on an online system.
  • The ability to moderate marks without having to physically exchange paper.
  • The increased speed and efficiency of being able to reuse common comments.
  • Improved morale through not having to write out repeated comments.
  • The convenience of being able to undertake originality and plagiarism checking in the same environment as marking.
  • Reduced data input and batch upload of marks.

How can EMA improve organisational efficiency?

The move from paper-based to online systems can save a considerable amount of low value administrative effort associated with receiving, processing, distributing and filing student assignments throughout the academic year.

Reducing Administrative Burden
As well as resulting in efficiency savings, there is a qualitative difference in the administrative tasks required to support assessment and feedback processes with the automation of some previously manual processes freeing up time to engage in more value added support roles.

Supporting Analytics
EMA can also provide the data necessary to undertake learning and assessment analytics. Without online systems it is difficult to collect and analyse data at a sufficient level of granularity to provide meaningful business intelligence.

There is immediate benefit for academic staff who can illustrate to students where things are going wrong, and turn common failings around more quickly. It also offers opportunities to identify and address weaknesses in module design more quickly.

There is an added impetus to develop capability in using assessment analytics in further education colleges and teacher education within higher education because Ofsted places an additional burden of care upon institutions to closely monitor progression and achievement and to use that data as part of the curriculum planning cycle.

Are there any drawbacks?

The overall value of EMA depends on your organisational context.

Discipline-Related Issues
Somewhat paradoxically EMA is easier to apply to relatively traditional forms of assessment such as essays and hence its value differs between disciplines.

There are still many issues to be overcome such as the marking of assignments requiring the use of mathematical and scientific formulae or musical notation and the marking of assignments system such as performances in the creative arts or other types of artefact that cannot be ‘submitted’ through the system.

There are however workarounds that can be applied, for example, audio and video feedback can still be provided and e-portfolios can be used for assessed work.

Staff Resistance
Research suggests that students and administrative staff are quick to see the benefits of EMA whereas academic staff have more mixed views and may be more likely to resist changes to working practices.

Such perceptions need to be explored and addressed as part of any implementation strategy particularly in view of the opportunities afforded by EMA to remove low value administrative tasks from academic workload.

Supporting Transition
As with the adoption of many new technologies, attitudes to issues such as online marking and feedback are highly personal. Some staff may cite eye strain as an issue whereas others find the accessibility functions inherent in online systems, e.g. the ability to alter font size and colour, offer advantages over paper marking.

Implementing EMA

Implementation requires careful planning to ensure all of the right pieces, relating to people, processes and technology infrastructure, are in place.

Consistent Processes
A key issue in implementing EMA is to ensure that business processes are well designed and consistently implemented with as few exceptions or workarounds as possible. Failure to ensure that business processes are transparent and consistent across the university or college can have a significant impact on parity of student experience as well as inhibiting the delivery of efficiencies through automation.

Roles and Responsibilities
The University of Huddersfield emphasises the importance of what it terms ‘role clarity’ in designing EMA workflows and specifically to distinguishing clearly between roles that require administrative skills and those that require academic judgement. The design philosophy at Huddersfield is to move as many duties as possible from academic members of staff onto administrative members of staff.

Training Needs
Some senior managers are concerned about the cost of training for both students and staff to enable them to use EMA systems effectively. Evidence from some large-scale studies suggests that these fears are unfounded.

The vast majority of students are able to make their first online submission without any prior training.

Similarly, in relation to online marking, the majority of academic staff are able to master the basics using the self-paced training tools available within the products without the need for formal training.

Change Management
Implementing full end-to-end EMA is a major undertaking for any university or college and involves significant change for many stakeholders.

Just as devolved business processes can seriously hamper institution-wide implementation, cultures and beliefs about time-honoured ways of marking and giving feedback can also prove resistant to change. Clear evidence of benefits and repeated opportunities to try hands-on are important change management tactics.

Jisc’s detailed guide to change management includes strategies relating to EMA.

Phasing Implementation
A typical implementation path might involve a move first to online submission of assignments followed by online feedback and then online marking. Few organisations are taking a strongly directive approach to online marking preferring instead to emphasise the benefits, reward those adopting the practice through a reduction in administrative duties and make use of ‘champions’ to share their positive experiences with colleagues.

Getting started with EMA

Option 1. Using the 'Advanced Upload of Assignments' activity in Moodle

This is a good choice if:

  • You want to download and mark assignments offline (e.g at home or on your laptop computer)
  • You want to return annotated assignments for students to view
  • You want to provide your feedback in an alternative way, such as using an audio or video recording

Resources:

Option 2. Using TurnitinUK and 'Grademark'

This is a good choice if:

  • You want plagiarism reports on your students' work
  • You have access to a reliable and fast internet connection
  • You want to use an iPad to mark assignments whilst on the move

NB: With the last option above, you must have an iPad if you want to download and manage assignments offline.

Resources:

  1. TurnitinUK Tutor Manual - for creating assignments
  2. Grademark Tutor Manual - for grading and marking assignments online
  3. TurnitinUK Student Manual - for submitting work and receiving feebdack and grades
  4. Further training resources for TurnitinUK are available from their website
  5. Using TurnitinUK with Moodle and the iPad (DOCX, 0.1MB) with York St John University's Moodle.

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