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Automating feedback to students

School of the Environment

Project Leader: Colin Pitts & Michael Bolton

Project aim:

To develop a piece of software for staff that can provide automated feedback on assessed work to students.

Project methodology

The original project was to develop software using Microsoft Office applications, principally ACCESS and WORD with “Macros” and/or “Data Access Pages” to create links between the programmes. The software will have a base-line feedback to which a range of options that could be added to by individual users e.g. the option to inform the student of their place within group. Options may also include the capability to mark anonymously using the SID alone.

Description of Output

Resources from the C&IT in the Curriculum would be used to:

  • develop a user-friendly menu driven feedback programme for automated dispensing of feedback comments in conjunction with the BANNER database and the University’s email system (hard copies of feedback would be generated simultaneously);
  • produce appropriate documentation for use with the programme; &
  • develop a tutorial and help system to guide the novice.

Evaluation of project and outcomes

In the project methodology of the C & IT bid it was stated that development would be carried out using ACCESS and WORD. This was the case in the early stages. However, after development of a prototype in ACCESS it was clear that the system would not be of great benefit to staff. At this point the ACCESS system’s flexibility was questioned. After researching the best way to develop the system to be used throughout the University, the MySQL database on the server and programming in PHP was chosen. Furthermore, the original system would only work in Microsoft™ operating systems and would therefore be inflexible. Consequently, much of the time in the development of MAAS has been spent in the understanding of new programming software (PHP). This decision has proved to be very successful, opening several options for expansion of the project beyond its original aim, but the main benefits with regard to the current project now include:

  • Any member of staff with a computer and web access can now use the system.
  • Marking of modules can be split up between teachers and stored in one place.
  • Advanced security options can be added which where not possible in ACCESS.
  • Automated backup procedures can easily be arranged.

The most significant improvement has been the simplicity of the new system that has diminished the need for a separate tutorial system to guide the novice. Hence, the tutorial section has been incorporated alongside the documentation (see attached Appendix). The attached documentation can be used in combination with the current software system at:
For further examination access has been granted to this site with Marker access privileges under the username of ‘davidg’ and password of ‘davidg’. For further information contact Michael Bolton (email: mbolton@env.leeds.ac.uk; ext 36704).


The project developers would be delighted to run demonstration sessions to colleagues within the University or to staff at other universities (e.g. C&IT fair).


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