The University of Derby has opened a centre to develop online assessment and cut paperwork as part of the long-term project Tripartite Interactive Delivery Systems (Triads).
Don Mackenzie, director of the centre, said: "Our aim has been to develop a system that poses as few constraints as possible in relation to design so that the tutor has the freedom to develop innovative questions that really probe knowledge and understanding.
"The system gives students instant feedback. It does not mean the demise of the lecturer but does relieve them of repetitive marking, allowing them to focus on effective tutorial work."
The centre will harness Triads' research on overcoming academic resistance to online assessment. Triads aim to answer such criticisms as the potential for guesswork and lack of flexibility. It provides more than 30 generic question styles, many of which are capable of testing understanding as well as knowledge.
Some of the question styles offer the potential to build in facilities for randomisation of data so that tutors can take advantage of flexible learning, allowing students to take tests via the web wherever they are.
Results of assessments are sent electronically to the tutor for moderation. Assessments can be displayed on screen to students with the tutor's comments, additional text, graphics and web links to interactive courseware.
Triads forms the base for a collaborative project with the University of Liverpool and the Open University. It is financed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
The Triads project, now in its ninth year of development, is being evaluated by 36 departments in 25 universities, covering 18 disciplines.