By: Trong Nguyen

New technologies that are integrated effectively can dramatically improve our current ways of teaching. As technological advances evolve, so must the way we go about teaching. Embracing new changes with an open mind allows us to optimize these adjustments to suit the teaching and learning process. From obtaining marks online to teaching tutorials online, we face a huge challenge shifting from traditional face-to-face instruction to online-based platforms. For example, students typically submit a paper copy of their reports, and then afterwards the instructor hands the report back to them with prompts for improvements and written annotations included. This standard practice has changed towards more online-based submission and feedback via online annotations. The benefits of online marking can be highlighted by comparing the convenience of use, economic efficiency, and quality of feedback against the traditional pen-and-paper marking method. Despite the fear of changing to a new system, the benefits of online marking certainly outweigh the negatives.

Change is often difficult to overcome. Some faculty members have been marking reports by hand for more than twenty years, and when presented with a new interface for marking, it is not always the smoothest transition. One of the greatest challenges that online submission presents is the efficacy of online annotations. Using a pen and paper to make comments and to deliver feedback has been the norm for a very long time. The learning curve often deters instructors from viewing online marking as an alternative in their teaching practice. Hence, challenges transitioning towards online certainly do exist. Becoming efficient at online annotation, like most tasks, requires practice and a willingness to learn.

Convenience is often a motivator for change. From the instructor’s perspective, online submissions can be quicker to mark and limit the need for physically transporting papers. In addition, online submissions reduce the need for paper and ink, which is beneficial from an environmental and economical standpoint. Online submission also has built-in benefits such as automatic time-stamps, which keeps a record of the submission [1]. Instances of plagiarism can also be easily identified, as online documents can be simply inputted through plagiarism detection software. Annotations can be more legible in terms of typed text instead of handwritten feedback. These minute conveniences compound to an increased efficiency by reducing marking time (benefiting the instructor and teaching assistant) while also providing instant feedback to the students (benefiting both the students and the instructor).

Paperless marking appeals to many students since it reduces stress in multiple ways. First of all, the logistics of printing and physically hand delivering the assignment itself creates anticipatory anxiety. In comparison, online submission provides instant recognition of submitted assignments and, from the student perspective, the satisfaction of knowing that the work has been successfully handed in. Hence, online submissions of assignments and marking can lead to a reduction of not only time, but also a reduction of preventable stresses for the students.

Feedback is important. The quality of feedback changes from the physical pen-and-paper medium towards a digital online one [2]. Feedback provides students with an opportunity to understand flaws in their work and improve upon them in the future. There are differences with online annotations that greatly contrast with the good old fashion pen and paper. For instance, handwriting can be messy: we are all quite familiar with the unbeknownst hieroglyphics of that certain professor whose feedback cannot be deciphered without translation. Dramatic improvements in legibility can be often observed when transitioning from hand-written to computer-type text. Being able to read the annotations is the first step in providing effective feedback.

The transition from marking assignments with a physical paper to online marking of paperless assignments has profoundly altered the way students receive feedback for their assignment. Some recent developments, such as providing digital annotations using a stylus, allow for input of feedback and comments directly onto an assignment [3]. Such developments attempt to replicate the tradition pen-and-paper marking paradigm. Hence, we observe a movement towards a more technologically adept transition but retaining the key characteristics of the pen-and-paper marking style. In terms of online submissions of reports, going paperless has been a widely adopted method currently and will only continue to increase in popularity.

Technological advancements have allowed us to alter dramatically the way teachers impart content and feedback to their students. The fact of the matter is that learning and teaching norms have subtly shifted towards a more technologically-based format, and certain aspects of pedagogy are more conveniently accomplished online. Challenges, such as quality of feedback and efficiency of use, often arise when coupled with transitioning to new ways of doing things. However, there are also many benefits that span from this movement towards online submissions of assignments that outweigh the negatives. Hence, it would be wise for educators to give online marking the benefit of the doubt.


  1. Barker, S., Fiedler, B. & Johnson, P. (2008). Paperless assignments: Moving forward or marking time? In Hello! Where are you in the landscape of educational technology? Proceedings ascilite Melbourne 2008.
  2. Van der Pol, J., van den Berg, B.A.M., Admiraal, W.F., & Simons, P.R.J. (2008). The nature, reception, and use of online peer feedback in higher education. Computers & Education, 51(4), 1804-17.
  3. Plimmer, B. & Mason, P. (2006). A pen-based paperless environment for annotating and marking student assignments. Proceedings of the 7th Australasian User interface conference, 50, 37-44.