Forms processing system eases exam-marking burden at Nottingham Trent University

Lecturers at the School of Biomedical and Natural Sciences at Nottingham Trent University have started using an AutoData forms processing system from Kendata Peripherals to save time on the marking of regular multiple-choice exams and the analysis of student feedback questionnaires.

Until recently, these tasks were carried out with three ageing card readers, which, according to senior lecturer Dr Graham Compton, were far from ideal. "Not only had the card readers become very unreliable," he said, "but the technology also necessitated two-colour printing of the answer sheets, which was relatively inflexible and expensive because you couldn't just run them through a photocopier if you had a last-minute panic, for instance."

Forms processing system eases exam-marking burden at Nottingham Trent University

One by one, the card readers stopped working completely, and, as exam time drew near, the need to replace them became increasingly urgent. With over 10,000 forms to process every year, Dr Compton said that the option of manual data entry wasn't considered "even for a second!"

As he set about looking for an alternative to the card readers, his research threw up a number of potential systems, but the level of response provided by Southampton-based Kendata Peripherals set them apart from the rest. "Also, their website is pretty informative and contains some useful guides, so if you have to sell the concept to colleagues who are not that familiar with the technology, it's a good place to direct them to," he said.

The University subsequently ordered the latest AutoData Scannable Office forms processing system. Comprising a high-speed scanner, forms processing software, Microsoft Word templates and special TrueType fonts, the system enables data to be scanned from paper forms directly into an Excel spreadsheet or Access database without the need for cumbersome data exporting procedures.

Customised forms can be designed in the familiar environment of Word - which greatly reduces the learning curve for users - and the AutoData software is capable of reading data in a variety of formats, including check-mark boxes, bar codes, printed type and hand-printed characters.

"Although we knew the form-design software would be very easy to use, Kendata were able to help us get up and running in the shortest possible time by designing and printing bulk copies of a standard exam answer sheet for us," commented Dr Compton. "However, we will be doing our own designs so that we can have the questions and the answer boxes on the same sheet, which we were never able to do with the old card-reader technology."

Completed forms are batched up and scanned, then after having been processed and verified by the AutoData software, the data can be transferred directly into an Access database for analysis. "There is a range of computer literacy amongst my colleagues," said Dr Compton, "and some of them don't use Access. So, to meet their needs, Kendata wrote a special software utility that simply processes the output of the AutoData system and produces a list of student names and corresponding percentage marks. The level of support we have received from the company has been second to none."

While exam marking was clearly the key priority for the University, the new system is also being successfully used for processing the thousands of student feedback questionnaires that are generated each year.

25th October 2005 - Ref. KE218A