Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU-K), a leading higher education centre based in Kakinada, India, has successfully implemented an automated online marking system through UK specialist DRS Data Services Limited and local partner Globarena. With over 300,000 students and 267 affiliated colleges across eight districts of India, the university runs up to 18 exams a year to cover all subjects ranging from engineering to pharmaceuticals, resulting in the marking of around 3.7 million scripts a year. Needless to say, the process is a massive undertaking, but now, thanks to scanning and electronic marking software, exam results can be delivered more quickly and with greater accuracy than ever before. What’s more, the new system is much better at rooting out incidents of fraud and corruption in the wrongful awarding of exam grades.
JNTU-K has over twenty undergraduate programmes (and Masters), including Aeronautical Engineering, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Electronics. Each semester (so every 5-6 months), students take exams (across 267 colleges) in a minimum of six core subjects, as well as additional modules. Scripts then need to be collated and sent to authorised marking centres from various locations. Previously, a lot of the transportation and marking of scripts was done manually, often by outsourcing to hundreds of temporary staff at peak times. This, said Dr Tulasi Ram Das, vice chancellor at JNTU-K, was prone to errors and malpractice.
"Without sufficient monitoring and control, there’s always scope for malpractice in the exams process: scripts can be smuggled and sold to students; unknown evaluators can give false marks; and not all teachers can be expected to remember every answer."
After going live with DRS e-Marker® software in January 2014 on its first batch of exams, JNTU-K is steadily switching to scanning and marking all papers electronically, with already over a million scripts marked to date (around half of all core subjects during the last semester). Given each script is 32 pages long, it’s equated to 32 million pages being marked on-screen so far. Soon, with a total of around 100 scanners across 14 marking centres and 50 terminals per centre, 700 trained markers will eventually be able to mark all JNTU-K undergraduate exams online in just a couple of weeks, as opposed to the manual process taking between three to four weeks before.
"Manual marking generally takes much longer, and, given the huge numbers, it’s simply no longer possible, or credible," said Tulasi.
JNTU-K has even committed itself to being able to email or provide online access to scanned, marked papers to any interested students just a week after results are posted - for a small fee, to cover administrative costs.
"To produce three quarters of a million PDF’s from JNTU-K’s first semester’s exams within a week was quite a challenge," said Gary Butler, international business manager at DRS Data Services Limited. "Making exam marks so transparent is still unusual and something many other universities are eyeing with interest."
Interestingly, the number of enquiries about exam marking is decreasing for JNTU-K; while elsewhere in the world, enquiries about results are generally going up year on year.
Quality and accuracy of marking has gone up by around 80% to 85% at JNTU-K since implementing the new software. This productivity figure is expected to rise further, as the system becomes more embedded and following more training and adoption. With e-Marker®, a process known as segmentation means that answers are broken down corresponding to question numbers and then ‘seeded out’ to up to eight separate evaluators, increasing standards of marking and identifying any markers not performing to the required level. Manual, paper-based errors are also avoided with the on-screen system, given that the computer automatically tallies up marks so that the evaluator doesn’t make mistakes.
With DRS e-Marker® provided through Indian partner Globarena, JNTU-K now benefits from an integrated, end-to-end exam marking system that ensures a better service for students and teachers.
"It’s a fool-proof system," concluded Tulasi.