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October 28, 2005

The Demise of Data Capture?

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/elearning/trends/funding/tqef/existingprojects/sciencescaa/

By "data capture" I'll mean the transfer of data from paper to an electronic repository, where it can be safely stored and analysed. It is typically used for processing questionnaires and marking tests. The Warwick E-Lab still offers data capture for a fee but writes: "It is a declining service, not one which is getting better resourced as time goes by". What are the implications of this?

The arguments for putting these activities online are compelling. The E-Lab FormsBuilder tool makes it very easy to create online questionnaires. But I would like to put in some caveats:

  1. When the Engineering Dept (some years ago) moved from paper to web evaluations for their modules, the number students responding dropped so drastically that they were criticised for low participation in their QAA subject review. Therefore incentives must be provided to encourage students to complete evaluation questionnaires, for instance, by integrating them with other online module activities: "completing this short questionnaire is the first part of this week's online assignment" OR by offering a prize for a randomly drawn questionnaire received by a given date with some of the money saved by going online.
  2. For some years the Mathematics Department has used Warwick's ITS data capture service to process invigilated paper-based multi-choice tests held in large lecture theatres — the tests count for a small amount of module credit, and four permuted versions of each paper are used to make it difficult to copy answers from neighbours. In the service's heyday, the data captors used touch-sensitive tablets and could turn around 350 answer sheets in 3 hours; an email merge brought the results of a midday exam to individual students by tea-time. Warwick's IT Services now use optical readers, and the response time is much slower. Of course, these tests could be put online, but although there are eight bookable work areas with just over 200 networked Windows PCs spread around the Warwick campuses, coordinating and monitoring these tests is a serious administrative and technical challenge for 350 students.
  3. The Department of Biological Sciences also uses regular paper-based multi-choice tests to assess around 150 first-year students on the module BS125. A member of their support staff processes the answer sheets using their own optical character reader and Speedwell Multiquest software to provide a quick turn-around of the test results and a range of statistical analyses. The effectiveness of this approach makes it unnecessary to consider investing time and effort putting the tests online

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