Marking for the Masses When Timely Feedback is Important

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The popularity of Computing degrees in the UK has been increasing significantly over the past number of years. However, this is tainted as Computer Science degrees also continue to maintain the highest dropout rates.
In Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), we currently have a Level 1 intake of over 400 students across several computing pathways. Our drive as staff is to empower and motivate the students to fully engage with the course content and all students take a Java programming module the aim of which is to provide an understanding of the basic principles of object-oriented design.
To assess these skills, we have developed Jigsaw Java as an innovative assessment tool offering intelligent, semi-supervised automated marking of code. For many of the students this is the first time they will have tried to program and therefore instilling a passion and interest is paramount if they are to be successful in their studies. One of the main issues we have had is that using the Java compiler can be as demotivating as not understanding programming. Coupled with this is the fact that if all students, in a large class, submit code to be manually marked and returned with useful feedback the process takes too long, it requires multiple markers which increases inconsistency of the process. If the students are lost at the point of submission of this task, by the time feedback is returned they have missed too much content to catch up and they become very demotivated.
Jigsaw Java allows students to answer programming questions using a drag-and-drop interface to place code fragments into position. Their answer is compared to the sample solution and if it matches, marks are allocated accordingly. However, if a match is not found then the corresponding code is executed using sample data to determine if its logic is acceptable. If it is, the solution is flagged to be checked by staff and if satisfactory is saved as an alternative solution. This means that appropriate marks can be allocated and should another student have submitted the same placement of code fragments this does not need to be executed or checked again. Rather the system now knows how to assess it.
Jigsaw Java is also able to consider partial marks dependent on code placement and will “learn” over time. Given the number of students, Jigsaw Java will improve the consistency and timeliness of marking.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2017
EventInternational Conference on Education and New Developments - Lisbon, Portugal
Duration: 24 Jun 201726 Jun 2017


ConferenceInternational Conference on Education and New Developments
Abbreviated titleEND 2017
Internet address


  • Programming
  • Assessment
  • Automated marking
  • Personalised feedback
  • Large class teaching


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