This is probably the area of the life-cycle where the benefits of EMA for students are most widely understood and accepted:
– convenience of not having to travel to hand in assignments
– avoidance of printing costs for students
– time savings and avoidance of anxiety about assignments going missing in the postal system
– automatic proof of receipt
– improved confidence provided by the privacy, safety and security of e-submission
– confidence of knowing work is backed up
– electronic reminders about deadlines and improved clarity about turnaround times for marking
– submission deadlines not constrained by office hours
– a sense that this is simply normal practice in a digital age
That is not however to say that institutions have already ironed out all of the issues around this area: technical, process, pedagogic and cultural issues do remain.
There are limits on the type of assignment that will ever be amenable to e-submission.
‘Art and Design does represent challenges as it can be more difficult to record the marking and assessment of physical art work than it would be an essay.’
There have been recent changes to the Turnitin product to expand the range of file types that can be accepted but the file size (currently restricted to 20 MB) remains an issue. The issues are not restricted to this particular software product as other commercial systems used for this purpose have similar limitations. Group work and peer assessment are other areas that are currently problematic.
‘A lack of ability to handle group submissions at this time is also a hindrance to adoption where group learning and assessment is desirable.’
‘An emerging requirement for which we have not yet found a solution is peer assessment in many different forms and combinations including anonymous and attributed: one to one; many to one; group to group….’
Whilst e-submission avoids the need for artificial deadlines, e.g. the time when the departmental office closes, greater flexibility has implications for student support such as the need for support outside normal office hours. There are also reported issues with submissions timing out when students have a slow Internet connection and related issues such as starting a submission at 00:59 but completing it at 00:01 when the deadline is 00:00 and the potential impact on late submission penalties if this process is automated.
There is a need to develop contingency plans for system failure and it has been suggested that institutions could look at options such as the development of some sort of ‘holding tank’ or cache to act as a buffer when Turnitin is experiencing periods of peak activity. This avoids issues where students are concerned their work has not been submitted and they resubmit thus adding to the load problems on institutional servers.
Institutions vary in whether or not they permit students to use the self-checking facility when text matching tools are used to aid judgements about academic integrity. An issue was cited whereby a student was flagged as having significant elements of potentially plagiarised material in their assignment. The source of the problem turned out to be the fact that his university did not permit student self-checking so he had asked a friend at a different university to run his assignment through the system: upon making his submission at his home university, Turnitin flagged the content as unoriginal. N.B. similar issues can be encountered when creating duplicate submissions as a workaround to providing feedback on drafts before students make their final submission.
Receipting also seems to be an issue for students. The Turnitin system offers a number of different types of receipt: on screen that can be printed, email and one that can be downloaded. Many students apparently prefer email but there are issues with the operation of this functionality where the product is integrated with a VLE. Other process issues have also been noted:
Basic process issues (such as lack of confirmable copyright statements / submission declarations) mean that e-submission through this system [Turnitin] is not as robust as it should be.
As regards institutional processes, there are many issues around managing extensions and extenuating circumstances. Some organisations believe they have clear institutional policies but find that interpretation of those policies varies widely between departments. The variability in how this is approached within and between institutions makes it difficult for system suppliers to build in functionality to apply coding for managing extensions and extenuating circumstances and/or penalties for late submission. The converse is also true that because systems are generally ‘closed’, even when institutions do have a clear and consistent approach, they are not able to change the product functionality to enable it to be operationalised.
MMU guidance on Submitting.