What does marking and production of feedback involve?
This is a key stage in the lifecycle when student work is formally evaluated against a set of predefined assessment criteria with marks and feedback provided.
Feedback and marking are separate entities and serve quite distinct purposes. In some cases assessments may be purely formative and feedback given with no mark associated. In this section we have addressed the more complex scenario where an assignment will have both marks and feedback. The importance of purely formative feedback for student's long term development must however be noted.
There may be multiple evaluators involved in assessing the work of a single student - the reasons for this are discussed further below. Here we look at a situation where teaching staff provide feedback and marks and consider peer review and assessment as separate themes (also under the lifecycle section on reflecting).
There are many distinct tasks under this element of the life ycle including distributing work to markers, marking itself, production of feedback and collation and verification of marks.
It's possible to carry out all of these tasks electronically but in practice many institutions still use a combination of online, off-line and paper-based processes.
What are we trying to achieve?
The main purposes of this life cycle stage are:
- To give a piece of work a final grade in relation to the assessment criteria
- To provide feedback to aid student longitudinal development.
The processes used to carry out these tasks are designed with two further objectives in mind:
- To ensure that the work of each student is marked fairly
- To ensure consistency of approach across different cohorts of students.
Particularly in HE, internal quality assurance processes will generally demand that marking and feedback is carried out in a certain way for a particular assignment. The main features of such processes are:
- Moderation to ensure a consistent approach across different markers
- Double or second marking to give additional scrutiny to the work of individual students particularly for high stakes assignments.
There are four main models of marking and feedback in the UK. We have defined these models based on research undertaken at the University of Manchester and validated with a wide range of HE providers as part of our EMA project. The models are:
Assignments are marked and marks and feedback recorded. A sample of assignments is then submitted to a moderator (or occasionally multiple moderators) who verifies that marking is consistent across all of the different markers involved. Any anomalies are reconciled prior to feedback and marks being released to students.
The sample used is usually a percentage that should include any fails, firsts or borderline marks.
The process is as described above except that feedback (and possibly provisional marks as well) can be released to students prior to the moderation process taking place
The work of each student is evaluated by two assessors who are each working blind to the marks and feedback given by the other. The two markers can work in parallel provided the technical settings of the marking tool used allows for this. In this case the student will usually receive two marks and two sets of feedback on the same piece of work.
Open second marking
As above, the work of each student is evaluated by two assessors but in this case the marking takes place sequentially with the role of the second marker being to validate the work of the first. The student receives a single mark and set of feedback. In some cases the two markers will collaborate to agree the mark.
The choice of approach to marking generally depends on the overall value of the assignment and its weighting in relation to overall marks for a particular programme of study. Some form of second marking and moderation can however be a staff development opportunity for new members of staff.
How might we use technology at the marking and production of feedback stage of the lifecycle and what are the benefits?
Technology can support all aspects of marking and feedback (often termed e-marking and e-feedback). Marking can take place online and increasingly off-line and feedback can be provided in digital formats including text, audio and video. The benefits of e-marking and e-feedback are most evident for academic staff and include:
- Convenience of not collecting and carrying large quantities of paper
- Convenience of electronic filing
- Security of having work backed up on an online system
- Ability to moderate marks without having to physically exchange paper
- Increased speed and efficiency of being able to reuse common comments
- Improved morale through not having to write out repeated comments
- Convenience of undertaking originality checking in the same environment as marking
- Improved clarity of marking and feedback and the ability to include lengthy comments at the appropriate point in the text
- Improved consistency of marking
- Ability to add audio comments and annotations as well as typed comments
- Ability to give qualitatively different feedback in different media eg, audio feedback for language programmes for intonation and pronunciation.
The benefits are also significant for students and there is indeed considerable student demand for e-feedback. These include:
- Improved clarity, particularly not having to decipher handwriting
- Improved privacy as compared to having paper assignments distributed in pigeonholes
- Easy storage increasing the likelihood that feedback will be reviewed at a later date
- Improved quality of feedback as tutors spend less time repeating common comments and concentrate more on the individual aspects of the assignment
What are the common problems?
Our research found this to be the most problematic component of the lifecycle as it is the area where the fit between institutional processes and the functionality of commercially available systems is least well matched.
Marks and feedback are different entities and need to be handled differently but technology platforms tend to conflate the two. Additionally most commercial systems don't provide functionality to meet the needs of each of the different roles in common marking and moderation processes. In practice this causes the following difficulties:
- Inability to release feedback to students separately from their marks
- Inability to support blind marking ie to hide the first marker's comments from a second marker
- Risk of second markers and external examiners overwriting or deleting comments made by an earlier marker
- Difficulties in recording decisions taken during the moderation process eg mark before and after moderation and reason it was changed
Despite the benefits of e-marking and e-feedback, institutions often defer to the preferences of individual academics when it comes to how they carry out the task. This means institutions supporting academics using a variety of different tools for marking and feedback as well as those who still work on paper.
There are some general issues around the ability of systems to deal with mathematical and scientific or musical notation but otherwise the issue is really down to personal preference as to whether or not tutors like to mark on screen.
For those who are prepared to undertake e-marking there is also a distinction between online or off-line marking with the former being currently better supported by systems than the latter. Some staff prefer familiar tools such as Microsoft Word but find the lack of integration with other EMA systems a drawback eg, the need to return work to each student separately involving an email per student and compromising anonymity.
Getting used to online marking tools may take a while but there is good evidence that integrated tools save time on the overall marking process. Deciding which tools to use is not necessarily a straightforward matter if the institution supports multiple tools, as the attractiveness of each may vary according to the type of assignment and marking process.
Whilst a lot of effort is expended on comparing and moderating marks, it is less common for programme teams to discuss feedback given to students. Consequently approaches can vary greatly with some feedback being much more comprehensive and useful than other examples.
Feedback can take many forms. Praise and feedback on content is less effective in the long term than feedback on skills and self-regulatory abilities. The latter are more likely to develop autonomy in learning and an ability to make evaluative judgements without the support of a teacher. Clarifying what purpose feedback is expected to serve and analysing tutor feedback therefore needs to become normal practice for academic staff.
Giving feedback can be very time consuming for academic staff and some staff may question whether the time spent is worthwhile if they are not confident that students are using and acting upon the feedback. See our section on reflecting for more help on this topic.
What resources can help?
- A report from the University of Huddersfield looks at staff and student attitudes to EMA and describes the strategies used to effect large scale change
- Read our case study on embedding electronic assessment management at Queen’s University Belfast
- Find out how Edinburgh College saved staff time and improved learning outcomes by implementing Turnitin
- Electronic Feedback is a marking assistant developed by Philip Denton of Liverpool John Moores University. The application uses MS Excel and Word to generate student reports in print and email messages. To obtain a copy of this free tool contact email@example.com
- Read Manchester Metropolitan University's suggestions for trying something new with feedback
- The Sounds Good project explored using digital audio to give student feedback
- Read the University of Oxford's guide on how to create audio feedback
- The universities of Reading and Plymouth have a useful website based on their experiences with video feedback