Forms-processing system facilitates research at University of Reading

By using an AutoData forms-processing system from Kendata Peripherals, the School of Languages & European Studies at the University of Reading has been able to expand research activities that had previously been constrained by the need to use laborious manual data-entry techniques.

Forms-processing system facilitates research at University of Reading

The Centre for Applied Language Studies (CALS) within the School of Languages & European Studies runs short, intensive courses on English for Academic Purposes (EAP) for international students who need language support before they begin their full-time degree courses, among other language-teaching activities.

At the end of the EAP course, students sit an exam known as TEEP (Test of English for Educational Purposes), which consists of several sections in different formats, including multiple-choice, short answers and essays.

"Until recently, we marked the multiple-choice section manually using a master overlay," said Bruce Howell, EAP lecturer and test administrator. "Now, with the AutoData system, the answer sheets are simply fed into the scanner and the marking process is completed in a fraction of the time."

While this time saving has clearly been beneficial to CALS staff, it was not their main motivation for investing in the AutoData forms-processing system. "All university departments aim to achieve a good balance between teaching and research," continued Howell, "and as part of our research efforts, we wanted to carry out item analysis of the TEEP exams, which means analysing each individual question to see what percentages get it right and wrong, whether it is working as predicted, and whether improvements can be made.

"However, we deal with over 300 students each year and producing the requisite matrix of 1's and 0's with the old manual data-entry method was extremely laborious, so we decided to look for an automated data-entry method instead."

Having been tipped off that another department at the University was already using an AutoData system, CALS experimented using it and, after this proved to be successful, asked Kendata Peripherals to quote for a second system. "Kendata compared favourably with the competitive quotes we obtained, so we placed the order with them," commented Howell. "Their subsequent service and training have been both friendly and efficient."

Comprising a high-speed scanner, forms-processing software, Microsoft Word templates and special TrueType fonts, the AutoData 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.

Because AutoData allows forms to be designed in the familiar environment of Word, it has a very short learning curve and so CALS was quickly able to design its own custom forms. As well as producing a scannable answer sheet for candidates to use in the multiple-choice section of the TEEP exam, CALS also designed another scannable form for staff to complete, summarising the marks from the short-answer sections.

Bruce Howell again: "The data from these forms has enabled us to produce the item-analysis matrix much more easily, so now we can quickly generate the statistics we need for research and reporting purposes." As for the future, Howell says that CALS is planning to expand the use of the AutoData system to cover assessment tests during the EAP course, as well as for processing the 500 or so course-evaluation questionnaires completed by EAP students each year.

25th July 2007 - Ref. KE228A