Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Marking essays electronically

Ian McNeill and Sue Renton at the School of Social and Political studies discuss how they improved the student experience and saved paper by switching to electronic marking.

Picture of Ian McNeill and Sue Renton at School of Social and Political Sciences

At the end of academic year 2011/12 a Proof of Concept for online essay submissions and feedback was developed in a Sociology course. Then in 2012/13 a pilot was undertaken across more courses in Sociology and other subjects. Out of 1,500 online submissions, none were printed for marking.

During the consultation period over the past year with different subject groups, interest has been very positive. We are planning to roll out online submission and feedback across the whole of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Already, undergraduate and postgraduate essays can only be submitted online. Whether staff will mark essays on or offline has not yet been decided.

Staff can print the essays out themselves at the school’s expense but may be deterred from doing so if they have, for example, 200 essays to print as this would be quite a laborious process. Staff must also return feedback forms and marked essays online. So if anything is printed it must be scanned in to be sent electronically.

Essays can be marked online or can be downloaded onto computers or tablets so that they can marked offline. Multi-modal marking is available to staff; documents can be annotated in Word, or on iPads; they can also be printed out and marked with a pen, then scanned.

It would be cumbersome to download a large cohort of work, one paper at a time, so we have developed a one-click download and one-click upload. We’re quite a progressive school when it comes to technology.

We have run a series of tutorial classes for course organisers and tutors on how to use the new online submission and feedback system, and electronic marking on PCs and tablets, to instil confidence. I ran most of these sessions but we are recruiting a .4 FTE, funded by our school, to run these classes.

With the savings we have we have been able to buy 50 iPads for staff to mark essays electronically

With the savings we have made on printing costs we have been able to buy 50 iPads for staff to mark essays electronically, on or offline. Accessing essays electronically means they are more secure; were they to be downloaded to a tablet and that tablet to be left on a bus, passwords can protect electronic versions of essays.

Students also have a little longer to work on their essays and dissertations if they do not have to take printing, and binding in the case of the latter, into account. For international students only in Edinburgh for one semester, they can now be sure of receiving feedback on their work after they’ve returned to their home country. Previously, hard copies of feedback were not posted on.

Where external markers have been involved we have had a very positive response."