Agony Aunt: electronic work

January 26, 2001

Q: I have noticed that some courses areallowing students to submit work electronically. What does this mean forsecurity and marking?

A: Given that students can already download other people's work from websites, I do not see that the security issue is especially affected by this new approach. Modern technology enables students to cut and paste documents with ease.

In some ways it is easier to detect cheating, especially where tutors place electronic annotations into a student's assignment. I was surprised to find an annotation in an assignment a student submitted to me. It referred to the student as "Marcus". My student was not called Marcus. I asked him to explain and this led to a rapid owning up to the fact that a previous assignment had been copied around.

The other change is that it is easier for the institution to monitor how long tutors take to mark assignments, and the extent to which tutors make exceptions for what they regard as deserving cases by allowing late submissions of work. This is all to the good because it reinforces a level playing field between students and upholds quality and education standards. But it makes it difficult to make genuine allowances in the case of, say, part-time students with demanding jobs. A balance needs to be struck between responding to individual circumstances and maintaining academic standards.

Electronic marking means that more comments are keyed in and that there can be no uncertainty about your remarks. It also makes you ponder about the words you use and their effect on students.

Paul Ketchley Part-time tutor, Open University.

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