Lessons from (re)introducing recursive marking

Today marks something of a milestone as Paperless School is finally getting a long-promised feature; recursive marking. Since the beginning, a teacher has been able to annotate an essay or portfolio assignment and send it back to the student. Now, the student can edit the work and send it back for re-marking. The cycle can continue for as long as the teacher chooses.

From the technical perspective, this has been a difficult feature to achieve. The system was built on the assumption that an assignment would go through a simple linear sequence of being set, opened, worked on, sent to teacher, marked, and returned to the student. Allowing recursive loops within this sequence required some of the deeper code to be rewritten. This in turn led to a debugging phase that took a full two months.

So how come we made the mistake in the first place? My conception was based on my own school experiences a generation ago. Essays were written, then marked. Then we moved on to the next topic. Only when we launched the GCSE Applied Business scheme did I discover that education is now far more of a collaboration between teacher and student than it used to be.

I’ve learned two lessons from this. Firstly, there is no substitute in product development for actually being out there, with a live product that people need to do their jobs.

Secondly, schools are unique. In the same way that school textbooks are a unique publishing format, schools’ publishing platforms will not and should not follow non-school models. Prior to commissioning Paperless School, I evaluated a number of off-the-shelf LCMS (Learning and Content Management System) products with a view to adapting one. Thank heavens I didn’t go that route.

Update: This was originally published in February. I felt it was worth redating it to coincide with the re-release of the recursive marking feature. First time around we were forced to revert to a previous version of Paperless School due to another bug in the same upgrade.

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