What does submitting involve?
This is the process of students handing over their completed assignment to the appropriate person so that marking and/or feedback can take place. It may involve taking a completed piece of work to a physical location or submitting something electronically (e-submission).
A receipting system indicates that a piece of work has been submitted or that an ephemeral assignment such as a presentation or dance performance has actually taken place.
What are we trying to achieve?
The process is formalised to ensure compliance with a stated submission deadline. This is largely to ensure that all students have the same amount of time to complete the assignment.
Clear deadlines also help in managing staff workload. Some institutions view student anonymity as an important means of ensuring fairness in the marking process and the ability to handle anonymous submissions can save time and complicated workarounds later in the process.
In using e-submission we try to make the process as easy as possible for students and avoid them having to make a journey to campus just for this purpose. We also try to streamline administration making it readily possible to see who has and hasn't submitted, to undertake academic integrity checking and distribute the assignments to markers.
How might we use technology at the submitting stage of the lifecycle and what are the benefits?
E-submission is rapidly becoming the norm. Features can include receipting, academic integrity checking and support for managing anonymity, distribution of work to markers and the application of penalties for late submission.
This is the area of the lifecycle where the benefits of EMA for students are most widely understood and accepted. For staff and the institution also, these include:
- Convenience and time savings of not having to travel to hand in assignments
- Avoidance of printing costs for students
- Automatic proof of receipt and avoidance of anxiety about missing assignments in the postal system
- 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
- Submission deadlines not constrained by office hours
- A sense that this is simply normal practice in a digital age.
That is not however to say that institutions have already ironed out all of the issues around this area; technical, process, pedagogic and cultural issues do remain.
What are the common problems?
Commercial systems used for e-submission have limitations on the type and size of files that can be submitted. It can also be problematic for such systems to handle group submissions eg, the outcomes of a joint project.
There are also limits on the type of assignment suitable for e-submission. Where the nature of the physical artefact is important, such as a piece of sculpture, a digital representation may never be an acceptable alternative. Similarly some pieces of assessed work may be quite ephemeral eg, a dance performance or an oral examination.
Case study: digitising thought
Abertay University is keen to make the most of digital technology wherever it can and has adopted an innovative approach to assessing art and design work.
Professor Louis Natanson, head of the school of arts, media and computer games, told us that with a traditional portfolio a lot of the work of interpreting the student's thought processes actually falls back on the lecturer who needs to try and make sense of what they are presented with.
By using a digital portfolio, the student is required to make decisions about how to present their work in the same way they would have to make decisions when deciding how to display a range of paintings in a physical space. The process of thinking this through and documenting the thought process is what actually achieves the learning outcome.
There is often no need for the university to store the physical artefacts meaning significant cost savings on the amount of storage space needed for arts and design subjects.
Ensuring that a submission is made in time for the assignment deadline can be stressful for students. E-submission avoids the need for artificial deadlines such as the time when the departmental office closes.
However greater flexibility has other implications such as the need for technical support outside normal office hours. When submission systems become mission-critical, any technical issues can have serious repercussions. System downtime beyond institutional control is commonplace in recent years and there are issues with submissions timing out when students have a slow internet connection.
When technical problems occur and students are unclear about whether or not their submission has been successful, it is a natural instinct to resubmit (often multiple times) which exacerbates server load problems.
Submitting is the part of the lifecycle where any agreed extensions to deadlines need to be managed. It is also important to know about any extenuating circumstances. This is largely a matter of institutional policy: some organisations believe they have clear policies but find that interpretation varies widely between different parts of the institution.
The variability of approaches makes it difficult for system suppliers to build in functionality to apply coding for managing extensions and extenuating circumstances and/or penalties for late submission.
Even when institutions do have a clear and consistent approach, they are often not able to change the product settings to match their policy. Human behaviour adds a further dimensional to the problem; predictably many students leave submission until the last possible moment and a late submission may be recorded when a student starts a submission at 00:59 for a midnight deadline but the upload does not complete until 00:01.
A need for student anonymity can cause issues from this stage in the process onwards. Sometimes the problem is due to human error eg, students inserting their own name into the filename even though they have been requested not to do so. In other cases, where there is full anonymity, the problem is identifying which students have not submitted or identifying students who have special needs or extenuating circumstances.
Maintaining anonymity can also be an issue in the later stages of the lifecycle.