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Reducing Administration and Plagiarism through E-Submission of Assessed Work

Christine Coe, IT Services (E-lab) University of Warwick

This article describes the design and piloting of e-submissions in a range of departments at Warwick. It does not aim to give a view as to whether or not departments should or should not be accepting or promoting electronic submission of coursework. The use of the technology to enable this work is described and departments will need to judge the extent to which this fits their own strategies and plans in assessment practice.


The e-submissions project came about a little by accident. Originally, the Elab E-learning Advisor Team (ELAT) were tasked with providing support for plagiarism detection software, focusing on the development of support and resources to aid the prevention and detection of plagiarism. Electronic submission of work is a prerequisite for automated plagiarism detection.To enable departments to use the Plagiarism Source Matching software efficiently, it was necessary for some departments to pilot electronic submission of students’ work. They did this readily as the web-based system in mind for the purpose would also eliminate the need for students to hand in a copy on a floppy or attach their assignment to an email, which is fraught with dangers.

Building a specialised assignment submission system, the web development team needed a clear set of requirements. An early report on the use of electronic submission in UK Further and Higher Education (Hilton, 2003) identified issues influencing electronic submission. However the report did not go on to explore these issues in depth. Work completed under internal funding at UCN addressed the issues for policy and practice more broadly (Bull & Fitzgerald, 2003) based on a survey of current institutional systems, security and procedures for e-submission. The main areas for concern appeared to be with receipting, methods for marking assignments, format of submissions, file naming conventions, storage facilities, suitability of courses to e-submission and technical abilities of staff and students in using it.

From early discussions with departments at Warwick, there were clearly different concepts of what e-submission would provide and the distinction with e-marking (Carpenter & O’Toole, 2004). The following outlines the initial requirements for an e-submission facility at Warwick and the experiences of departments in the first pilots.

Design of an e-submission facility

The existing functionality of Formsbuilder was deemed sufficient to act as a basic submission system, allowing the uploading of files by users to a storage area for later retrieval by academics or administrators. Furthermore, Formsbuilder is rapidly becoming ubiquitous and hence well understood throughout the institution. It is well designed, by a team of HCI experts using the latest design techniques and technologies, was built to a very high standard by a team of specialist Java programmers, has virtually zero downtime, and is supported through an online forum and through the IT Services telephone support facility. Given that students may be using the system at a time of stress, such high standards are essential.

A common request from departments required the creation of one entry web form for all modules in order to avoid confusion. This form must have an attachment facility for easy upload and would have provision for multiple assay submission. The attachment should be able to be prefixed with a university number, module code, date and any other desired text.   Students must receive an email confirming they have submitted successfully and repeating the information input to the form. The student should print this email and hand it in with their paper copy.

Although the forms system has facilities to filter the uploaded assignments, it would be unwise to upload all undergraduate module assignments to one storage area as this would create a large and unmanageable database. This may necessitate many different individuals being given rights to the assignment database.

Policies & pilots in departments

Recently, a number of departments, including Law, CELTE and Economics have engaged in an early pilot scheme. Law and Economics decided on a policy to upload all student assignments to the source matching software making the usage of the bulk upload facility essential.

To accommodate all of the original requests and keep the databases secure and manageable, a simple but effective interface has been added using one web page for all undergraduate or postgraduate assignments. The design of this single point of entry inherits its good design and usability from the Sitebuilder system within which the department web sites sit. Clear instructions are provided with a drop-down list allowing students to select their module. After selection and on clicking ‘Continue’, they will be directed to their chosen upload form, pre-populated with their university number, module name and code.  

The Law School began working with the Formsbuilder system as a database for compulsory electronic submissions of all word-processed assessed essays in the '05-'06 academic year. We have found the system to be of great benefit to the School. It has particularly helped our efforts to combat plagiarism. The ability to run student essays through anti-plagiarism software in a systematic manner has made our anti-plagiarism efforts both more effective and more fair to students, in addition to significantly decreasing the workload for academic staff on the School's Cheating Committee.

>We are also investigating the potential use of the Formsbuilder system for document storage purposes. The Formsbuilder databases are quite user friendly and we have been pleased with the performance of the system, even under the pressure of heavy use. Of course, the Formsbuilder system was not actually designed for the purposes to which it is currently being put by the Law School, so our system has required bespoke tailoring by E-lab. There are a number of functions that we would like the system to perform but currently have to do without, notably including the current inability to upload class lists onto the system to keep track automatically of which students have and have not submitted essays for each.

Dan Joyner, School of Law

In CELTE, students have in general taken to the system remarkably easily, although naming their files appropriately still seems to be a challenge for many of them. Office staff have also found the requirement to check for a printed e-mail receipt for the e-submitted file when taking in hard “copies of assignments has not added greatly to their work”

Comparing the present procedure for checking assignments for plagiarism using JISC with what used to be the case; there is no question that it is now much simpler, quicker and more straightforward.

Tilly Harrison, CELTE

In Economics, around 500 honour-level students take roughly 4 modules in each year and submitting two essays per module. The hard copies take up a huge amount of office space, which can hardly be afforded, whereas a CD with the submitted work takes no space.

The handing in process of attaching a cover sheet, scanning the library card of the submitting student and sorting the work by tutorial group, takes a large amount of administrative time, whereas this is largely an electronic process with e-submission. The ability to easily check for potential plagiarism was also an appealing feature, from the perspective of the Department.

As e-submission can be done remotely they do not have to visit the department and spend 20-30 minutes queuing (along with 200 other students on the bigger modules) to submit their work. For student who are late-submitting their work there is a 5 percentage point punishment per day late, for a Friday submission this could mean 15 percentage points prior to the office opening again on a Monday morning, whereas with 24 hour submission this clearly does not have to happen.

Jeremy Smith, Economics

Experiences of students

Students have reported that they are pleased to find the assignment submission system within the familiar context of their department web site, with a familiar “look and feel”. This avoids the sense of alienation and subsequent confusion endured by many students burdened with disjointed virtual learning environments.

Future developments

Taken together, the implementation of e-submissions must be approached systematically at both technical and policy levels. Using the feedback from the pilot studies, development of an e-submission system as a centrally supported tool will rest on achieving a critical demand for this facility across the faculty and across the University. The intention to move to e-submissions, and the issues in so dong, is indicated in the Assessment Handbook in Economics, which makes clear that this is not solely a technical matter. There are various academic procedures that would need to alter to take account of e-submissions and these will need to be explored as the development progresses.

The ELAT will continue to work closely with departments to implement and extend Formsbuilder assignment submission, employing an agile development methodology, based upon continual user feedback. Some ‘possible’ future developments are already being investigated:

  • Integration of plagiarism detection, so that assignments are checked as they are uploaded.
  • Simplified and automated setup of assignment submission forms.
  • Integration with the Academic Data Store, so that lecturers and administrators can easily see lists of students who have or have not submitted.
  • Use of the Academic Data Store to display module lists personalised to the student.
  • Integration with Personal Development Planning and Individual Learning Plans.
  • A system to handle individual deadline extensions.  


Bull, Adel & Rachel Fitzgerald (June 2003) E-Submission at UCN  – Issues, Practice and Policy. The full report is available on the web at: (accessed 01/02/07)

Carpenter, s & O’Toole, R. (November 2004): blog entries available on the web at:

Hilton, Anne (February 2002) Study on the use of electronic submission in UK Further and Higher Education Report by Loughborough University : Learning and Teaching Development for the JISC. Available at:  (accessed 01/02/07)


Citation for this Article
Coe, C. (2007) Reducing Administration and Plagiarism through E-Submission of Assessed Work Warwick Interactions Journal 29. Accessed online at:
(Accessed )