How technology has helped deliver better professional services

This blog usually concerns itself with learning technologies, but this week I am looking at some of the advances in the technology that Professional Services staff use to support teaching, learning, assessment and the general student experience.

I know we all complain when the systems don’t quite do what we want them to, but when I think back to all the paper we used, the time spent handwriting everything, even just the hours we spent folding documents to be posted to students I’m amazed and gratified at the amount of progress in technology in the last 30 plus years, which was essential to streamline and improve the work we do, and the service we provide to students as part of Professional Services. When I joined Sussex in 1990 it was as a clerk/typist in the Undergraduate Admissions office in Sussex House. In those days we had one typewriter, and a temperamental machine attached to a dial-up modem, which had a direct link to UCCA, so that we could record any offers made to potential students.

Dissertation dash panic and sorting scripts

By 1996 I was in the Exams and Student Progress team. Everyone now had a PC, and a rudimentary email system. However, most of our work was still done manually. Once a year we had a whole week devoted to taking in students’ essays and dissertations (the origin of the famous ‘dissertation dash’), which took place on Mandela Balcony.  Students would queue up at desks with a sign showing their module code, hand in two physical copies of their work, and sign a paper ‘submission sheet’.  Students had to make sure that they had correctly completed the cover sheets (pink for finalists, yellow for second year, and grey for first year), and a title form signed by their tutor.  When it came time for the doors to close there would be a lot of panicked, anxious students trying to fill out the cover sheets and attach them to their work. Part of my job at that time of day was to walk around the room with a one-hole punch, helping them put their work together, and reassuring them that as they were already in the room they could relax and would be able to submit.

The work would then be taken into a back room and sorted by hand into a pile for each module, in candidate number order.  The next day the scripts would be separated into two piles by pairs of staff, who would check them against the submission sheets, and bundle each pile of scripts up, for collection by the first and second examiners.

A vast improvement to the submission process came when we started to work with scanners, which would scan the barcode on a student’s registration card, so we could log their submissions directly into CMS, this really sped up the process, and also meant the submission were recorded with more accuracy.

Plotting the Exam Timetable by hand and inputting marks

My then manager, Jackie Marsh, who was in charge of Arts-based exams, would book a room with the manager of the Science-based exams, Tony Durrant, for a week, and together they would create the exams timetable. This would be written out by hand on A3 sheets of paper, and once it was finalised it would be typed out into a Word document, and then hard copies would be posted out to all students taking exams. Eventually we had access to WCM, so the timetable could be posted on our website instead, which cut down on a huge amount of work and paper use. Now that we have so many more students and modules the exam timetablers use the computerized system Optime, which has its own challenges but has brought the process into the 21st century.

One of my jobs in those days was to print out the mark sheets for all submitted assessments and exams.  The mark sheets for submissions would go with each pile of scripts collected in Mandela Balcony, and also with the scripts returned to the office from the exam rooms.  Either the examiners or Subject Secretaries (as the Course Coordinators were then called) would write the marks for each piece of work on the marks sheet and return them to the Exams Office, where we would type them into CMS.  Each mark had to be entered twice, and this was a long, labourious process, not made easier by the amount of missing marks we had to chase, and the quality of some examiners’ handwriting!

After the marking process was completed, the Schools would return all the scripts to us (submissions and exams) and we would take them to our archive room in Arts D.

Things are very different today with most tasks being managed digitally. Canvas (and its predecessor Study Direct) have been used to enhance the students’ learning experience and the e-submission and feedback systems provide new tools and challenges for Professional Services staff, but the days of piles of paper are a thing of the past.

Posted in digital skills
One comment on “How technology has helped deliver better professional services
  1. Helen Basterra says:

    This made for fascinating, and terrifying, reading! It’s so easy to forget how complicated and time consuming assessment administration used to be. I remember moving from hard copy submission to e-submission in 2012, and from hard copy committee papers to emailed papers. I don’t miss the half a day I had to spend at the photocopier!

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  1. […] Academic Enhancement Officer Simona Connelly recently published a blog recollecting her memories of the early days at Sussex, and how advances in technology have helped […]

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We are the Educational Enhancement team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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