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CSX Customer Services, a Metrofile Holdings company, a specialist solutions and support company, piloted a project for the Independent Examinations Board (IEB). The project, which was successfully completed in July, incorporated online marking technology for the marking of the Life Orientation (LO) Common Assessment, written by 11 500 matric students countrywide.

Anne Oberholzer, CEO of the IEB, is satisfied with the outcome of the pilot and says it is an excellent example of the role that the IEB plays in South Africa: “As an independent assessment body we have the flexibility to create new and imaginative assessments or approaches that challenge both teaching practices and the way our learners process information. Furthermore, we are able to explore new initiatives in the approach to examinations in South Africa with minimal disruption to the main system. By investigating the online marking system, the IEB has implemented a project that improves the reliability of marking and benefits teachers and students alike.”

Oberholzer says that online marking has long been utilised by both the Americas and the United Kingdom as well as some countries in Africa and the Caribbean.  The opportunity presented to the IEB by CSX was well timed and opportune for both parties: “CSX had successfully completed an online marking project in Namibia and was looking for a South African educational institution to evaluate the approach. As an assessment body, always looking to innovate and introduce global approaches in South Africa, online marking was a great opportunity to explore and experiment using a methodology that could fundamentally benefit our South African system as a whole.”

CSX Managing Director, Mario Martins says that the project was the first of its kind in South Africa and was a resounding success: “Not only did the pilot run exactly as expected, it has provided the IEB with an important opportunity to innovate and provide assistance to both teachers and students in the often daunting task of marking.”

He says that the online marking methodology assists the management of the marking process and has the potential to reduce the time of marking considerably. “In the IEB project printing and scanning was done at CSX’s secure facility and scanning of the 11 500 examination papers took only one day. We marked and scored all the examinations in five days and presented the results and statistics on the sixth day.”

Oberholzer says that LO was selected based on its subjective nature, which does present challenges for managing the marking effectively. 131 teachers from across the country marked the examinations from a central marking centre provided by CSX and its sister-company Global Continuity: “There were several considerations before embarking on this project and IT infrastructure was one of the most important challenges for us. By utilising the CSX hardware, the IEB did not have to invest in any hardware or technology, which was a major consideration for us.”

Martins says that the system was also able to work offline in the event that the internet was down and there were also generators available if power was cut. The information is encrypted and is being stored at Global Continuity for a period of six months or more, as necessary to assist with any remarking requests.

According to Oberholzer, pedagogically the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. By utilising the online marking system, the IEB is able to monitor the marking process as it unfolds: “As an examination body we were able to track markers, efficiencies and errors far more proficiently. There is also an internal email system, which enables a marker to log a query or communicate directly with the team leader or chief examiner at any time. They also have access to the marking guidelines that includes a full rubric for the essay question while marking.”

Importantly, it is virtually impossible for any examination answer scripts to be misplaced as once scanned, they are in the system automatically. The reliability of the marking has also improved based on the support provided by the marking system. “We are also able to deliver detailed feedback based on the ability of the system to extrapolate meaningful information from the data. For examiners and moderators, the question-by-question data enables them to detect immediately and exactly where a problem has occurred, if that is necessary. We can now give teachers useful feedback regarding the students’ level of knowledge and skill based on their answers to specific questions,” says Oberholzer. She says this is an important aspect for her as the IEB believes in encouraging students to think out of the box and constantly challenge their level of understanding. Meaningful feedback into the teaching and learning cycle is a fundamental aspect of good assessment.

Following the successful completion of the LO pilot project, Oberholzer says that they will embark on a second phase at the end of the year.  This will entail online marking for another three subjects:  Economics, Design and IT Theory: “We are excited to test the system by running an online marking session for three different subjects in one marking centre.”

Martins says he is pleased to have another project through the IEB and is confident that the system will perform as well as it did with the initial project: “We have developed solid methodology with a robust IT system and infrastructure to support the project. Assisting the IEB to introducing a globally comparable online marking system is a privilege and we look forward to building and growing the project into a widely accepted and valued marking approach.”

Oberholzer says the project is not initially a cost saver – it may well be once it has been implemented fully. However, it is an opportunity for the IEB to introduce a globally accepted standard of online marking to South Africa, which if it proves possible to implement in the state system,  will ultimately benefit the education sector as well as the students: “We believe that a good educational foundation with valid and reliable assessment will equip South Africa with responsible citizens who are global thinkers, have good ethical practices and strive to support and develop South Africa and, indeed Africa. This project is one way in which we strive to achieve this vision and play a positive role in our country and continent.”

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