GradescopeDigitising assessment at the University of Edinburgh

Digitising assessment at the University of Edinburgh

Having done the groundwork before the pandemic, a shift to digital assessment is proving beneficial in STEM subjects at the University of Edinburgh

The IT team at the University of Edinburgh had been looking at digital assessment for some time when the pandemic hit in 2020, so the shift to remote learning accelerated a journey that had already started. “We were experiencing growth in student numbers so there was more assessment to handle, and we wanted to better support authentic assessment in STEM subjects,” explained Victoria Dishon, head of IT at the university, speaking at THE’s Digital Universities Week UK 2022. “When the pandemic happened, we had to look at everything through a digital lens and pivot very quickly.” 

The informatics department undertook a pilot of assessment tool Gradescope in 2019, and since then it has been used across more than 500 courses and 200,000 student submissions. “The main driver was the need to mark at scale and speed,” said Alex Burford, learning technologist at the University of Edinburgh. “We’d already completed our data protection impact assessment, so we were able to bring things online quickly.”

The pilot showed that the tool could support both formative and summative assessment, offering meaningful feedback on student coursework but also the option of digital exam marking.  

Getting academics and students on board was key. The team created a “community of practice” that brought in everyone who would be impacted by the changes. “This meant that once everything was in place, scaling up was less problematic,” Burford said. Almost two-thirds of academics in one school reported that marking time had dropped, and the same proportion noticed a reduction in administration tasks.

“It’s unusual for academics to call me and tell me something is going well, so to have them call and email to tell me this has made marking easier is great,” Dishon said. Teaching and exam administrators – for whom assessment time usually means a spike in workload – reported that support calls from students dropped “astronomically”. 

The team is now looking to expand its use of Gradescope. The university’s exam diet has a quick turnaround, with the exam board meeting to ratify assessments just days after they are held. This year it will run several on-campus exams where students write exams into a personalised answer booklet that is then scanned into Gradescope.

“It’s online marking but students sit in exam halls under proctored conditions,” Burford explained. “This has addressed concerns around academic integrity, and I can see this becoming the default. Every time saving is crucial.”

“Many of us have a superficial view of what marking is, but it’s much more complicated," Dishon said. "This is an exciting time to explore how technology can support us, with our academic body asking for us to do this rather than feeling it has been imposed on them.”  

The panel:  

  • Alex Burford, learning technologist, College of Science and Engineering, University of Edinburgh
  • Victoria Dishon, head of IT, College of Science and Engineering, University of Edinburgh
  • Jamie Whitehead, product success manager, Gradescope

Find out more about how Gradescope can help with a range of subjects and courses.

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