Automated, digital exam marking solution scores top marks
The North-West University (NWU) has recently completed a major upgrade of its automated multiple-choice test and exam marking system, stepping boldly into the 21st Century with a sophisticated Kofax scanning and capture solution.
The University has three campuses which are located in Potchefstroom, Vanderbijlpark and Mahikeng. With more than 65 000 students the NWU is considered as one of the best-managed and most innovative higher education institutions in South Africa
Handling such large volumes of students across remote locations requires robust IT infrastructure and systems, particularly at exam time. Apart from expecting the accuracy of these automated systems to be of the highest order, students also expect timely turnaround times on their results.
Prohibitive Running Costs
"We had an old system of mechanical marking machines that met this need, but the cost of maintenance made it difficult to justify such old technology," explains Gerda Schilling, the university's Senior IT Consultant.
As Intervate, a specialist provider of Enterprise Information Management solutions improving productivity and collaboration, had implemented some systems at the university in 2008, the company was invited to submit a proposal on a digital solution that would provide the same levels of accuracy while also feeding these results into the back-end systems.
Given Intervate's expertise in developing and implementing such enterprise information management systems, it chose to provide a Kofax solution that met these needs while offering significant cost savings. With high annual maintenance costs on the old machines and replacement costs in the order of R150 000 each, justifying investment in the digital solution was straightforward. Three of the old card readers were replaced.
Intervate is a Kofax Platinum Partners, which highlights its competence in deploying these scanning and capture systems for more than a decade already, and because of this status has access to dedicated resources, support and training. The company is also a multiple Kofax Partner of the Year award winner for its success in developing and deploying these systems at enterprises large and small.
Kofax has the answers
"We implemented a scanning and capture solution based on Kofax Capture and the Kofax VirtualReScan (VRS) image processing engine to be able to scan, read and collate the multiple-choice answers," says Gia Thom, Business Development Manager for Intervate's Imaging and Capture Solutions unit.
Kofax Capture is the software that not only captures paper and electronic documents and forms, but also transforms this into an accurate digital format for use in enterprise applications and systems. In addition to incorporating Optical Character Recognition, this suite of scanning tools also boasts Optical Mark Recognition, which is essential for the reading of forms such as multiple-choice questionnaires.
The ability to capture, index and validate the scanned material in this manner was key to the choice of this solution, while its unmatched scalability is naturally paramount to the North West University scenario.
The decision to deploy Kofax VRS speaks directly to the university's need to ensure accuracy, as this powerful tool is able to automatically perform cleaning up functions such as auto rotation, crop, punch hole removal and blank page deletion.
The legacy marking machines have now been replaced by four Fujitsu scanners. These are located in two central workstations at IT on the Vaal Triangle and Potchefstroom campuses. The other two are located at the faculty of Economics and Business sciences and at the school Physical and Chemical sciences on the Potchefstroom campus. These two are dedicated workstations to cater for their large volumes of students.
A multi-purpose solution
An unintended benefit to the university is that Kofax can be used for tasks aside from only marking question papers, and as the system is already plugged into the back-end systems. Typical uses could include scanning any paper documents - including old student records, that can then be fed into the university's document management system.
The versatility of the scanners with regard to the type and size documents that can be scanned has enabled the university to design the forms - for exam and other uses such as lecturer evaluations - that is most appropriate for purpose.
Gerda says that finding the most appropriate format, size and colouring was initially a matter of trial and error, but that these parameters have now been bedded down to ensure the best results.
This early learning process was done with the Intervate team that had to recreate the format from what the mechanical markers needed to what worked best in the digital format.
"There is generally some customisation needed to get the best results," says Gia. "The automated checking of questionnaires as it has been applied here is not a standard function and we had to do a fair amount of custom development to get it to the level that we were all satisfied."
Having taken the leap to this digital solution, North-West University can confidently pursue its goal of being a leading educational institution, with the benefits of the automated and centralised exam results sure to be felt across its faculties.