Case Study: using iPads to mark lab reports

Over 280 1st year Chemical Engineering students are learning how to conduct experiments and write up lab reports in their course unit for 2014/15.

  • Groups in Blackboard
  • Turnitin: online submission of files
  • Turnitin: originality reports
  • Grademark: marking lab reports using rubrics
  • Using the Turnitin app on iPads

Each student completes eight different experiments over the course of the year and writes a report on each one. The logistics of scheduling lab time, allocating students into groups, collecting their lab reports, assessing them and giving feedback is a huge administrative overhead. The team of lab demonstrators and course leaders wanted to find a way of automating at least some of these tasks to speed up the process of marking and returning feedback to the students.

The course leader, the team of demonstrators and the lab manager, Tricia Turnbull, had been supplied with iPads for use in the labs.  The eLearning Team suggested using Turnitin for the students to be able to submit their lab reports online.  Files submitted to Turnitin can also be marked using iPads, and the results are fed back into Blackboard for the students to see.

Groups in Blackboard: automated allocation saves time

We used a new tool in Blackboard which allows the bulk import of group information from an Excel spreadsheet to allocate the students to their relevant groups all 280 students were allocated to one of 44 different groups in a matter of minutes, which would previously have taken hours to set up. Further details of how to import/export groups in Blackboard available here>>>

Once the group allocation had been set up, we turned our attention to the online submission of lab reports and the marking procedure.

Turnitin: online submission of files saves queues at the School office

Each of the eleven different experiments is supervised by a single demonstrator who is also responsible for marking the resulting lab reports and giving feedback to the students.  The turnaround time for getting the lab reports back to the students is very tight. The students must submit their lab reports within one week of completing the experiment, and the demonstrator must return the marks within one week of receiving the reports.

Each experiment has its own assignment inbox, and only those students who are allocated to that experiment can see the inbox.  This is done using adaptive release rules in Blackboard. More information on adaptive release in Blackboard here>>>>>>  It would be possible to refine it further if we set up an assignment inbox for each group and each experiment, but that would have meant setting up some 400 separate Turnitin assignments! Setting up Turnitin assignment inboxes – further details available here>>>

The students receive a digital receipt when they submit their files in the Turnitin assignment inbox so they no longer need to queue up to hand in paper copies.

Turnitin: originality reports

Turnitin compares each lab report against its database of papers, websites, online journals and other resources to produce an originality report.  University policy at present is that students are made aware that their work will be checked for plagiarism in this way, but they are not allowed to see the originality reports.

The iPad Turnitin app

The lab reports are all held in the Turnitin inbox, where the demonstrators can see them as soon as they have been submitted. The demonstrators can either use a PC to access the Turnitin inboxes embedded in Blackboard, or the Turnitin app on an iPad.  Comprehensive security procedures have been set up for marking using iPads – further details available here>>>

Grademark: online marking using rubrics improves consistency

The draft rubrics were set up in Turnitin’s Grademark tool, based on the existing marking schemes. All reports are marked out of 20.  Grademark can recognise less than whole marks for individual criteria but will round up or down to the nearest whole number for the overall mark.  Grademark also cannot handle negative marking. Marking and feedback in Turnitin/Grademark – further details available here>>>>

Marks and feedback are delivered to the students’ My Grades space in Blackboard as soon as the lab demonstrators have completed marking.  This was as a result of the setup of the Turnitin assignment inbox per experiment – if we had done it per group, it may have been possible to restrict the release of marks and feedback, but that would have entailed setting up dozens of separate Turnitin assignment inboxes.

What went well?

  • Assigning students to groups using the import/export route in Blackboard saved at lot of time.
  • Automatic transfer of marks from Turnitin to Blackboard.
  • Most demonstrators found using the iPad for marking very easy.
  • Almost all files were submitted to the correct assignment inboxes.
  • The quick turnaround of marks and feedback proved successful – but students are now expecting all of their marks to arrive at the speed of the fastest marker!

What didn’t go so well?

  • An initial misunderstanding of the post date rules led to no feedback being available to students for the first round of reports, until we figured out its relevance.
  • Inconsistency of marking schemes between different experiments – we had to edit some marking schemes to avoid half marks and also negative marks.
  • Trying to accommodate students who wanted to change groups proved a strain – as did the fact that some students arrived quite late in the semester through no fault of their own.
  • Editing rubrics is complicated – once a rubric has been set up and attached to an assignment, it is not possible to edit it once it has been used.
Case Study: using iPads to mark lab reports
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