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Join the Great CAPS LOCK Debate

May 12, 2020

Automated Assessment

One thing students need to get used to when it comes to digital learning is that a computer often marks their work. This can be a blessing for busy teachers, especially when students are able to make multiple attempts for each task. However, you probably make a lot more exceptions for your students than a programmer does!

While you might consider an answer to be acceptable, the system will mark it as either correct or incorrect unless it's an open-ended question type.

Some digital platforms allow teachers to go in and change a result depending on their expectations. Other platforms, including ESL Library, do not yet have this feature, and you and your students are stuck with the score that the system assigns unless you contact someone.

ESL Library's Digital Tasks

With each ESL Library task type, the publishing team (made up of teachers and former teachers) has had to make some decisions about what type of responses will be accepted or not. In our Type in the Blanks tasks, we decided that proper capitalization should be required. This means that in a task titled Listen & Type, students have to type a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence. Students also have to type proper nouns with initial capital letters.

For example, if your student types CAT instead of cat, the system will mark the answer wrong. Likewise, if your student types english instead of English or it's instead of its, the answer will be marked as incorrect. This can become a big problem if your students are used to using a backquote (`) instead of a proper apostrophe (') or, more commonly, have a bad habit of typing with the caps lock on. 

What we hoped would happen is that students would quickly learn that typing with the caps lock on is a mistake, as is leaving out an apostrophe (or using the wrong one). After all, ALL CAPS is not an acceptable style of writing in academic or business writing (except in rare situations, such as on envelopes). In fact, in English, using ALL CAPS can be seen as rude. Digital literacy is an important skill to learn and can be taught along with language learning.

Teacher Feedback

Since making this decision, a number of teachers have written in to let us know their thoughts. Some think their students' answers should be marked as correct regardless of case, especially in grammar exercises that are not full sentences. Others have let us know where instructions need to be more clear about how an answer should be styled to ensure students have a good model to follow (very helpful, thank you!). 

For our See & Spell task type, which is mainly used in beginner-level lessons, we do allow for mixed-case responses due to feedback from literacy and low-level teachers. However, some teachers may prefer that all typing tasks have the same requirements so that students know what not to do for other tasks.

Survey Question

We'd love to know what you think about this question:

On an educational platform or app such as ESL Library, should the system accept all correctly spelled answers regardless of case? 

Please respond in the comments!

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Comments (4)

Laura R.(Teacher)

Hello. I think the answers should be marked as incorrect, whether it's a grammar or vocabulary exercise. In an English written exam punctuation errors, such as not using capital letters when required, is an error. For grammar, using it's and its inappropriately means not having understood the form and the use, and this can subsequently cause confusion.

Reply to Comment

Tara Benwell(Author)

Thanks for sharing your helpful opinion, Laura!

Jennifer F.(Teacher)

Hi there, yes, I think they should be marked as incorrect, because learners do need to practise remembering punctuation and capitalisation rules at all times. Every language has its own rules about what is correct or acceptable, including English. So that is a digital literacy, cultural and language lesson, all at the same time.
And the more we give them opportunities to practise, the better they get at remembering and using all those rules.

I also think that it is great that your See & Spell for low learners and beginners accepts all styles.
And great that open-ended questions obviously won't mark them, which allows all levels of learners to try, and lets the teacher mark answers appropriately. The perfect combo.

So I think you've covered all bases. Wonderful.
(But my opinion may be skewed by the kind of learners I have.)

Wonderful, and thankyou for asking for feedback from everyone!

Reply to Comment

Tara Benwell(Author)

Hi Jennifer,

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your feedback regarding autocorrection and capitalization. This is so helpful for us!

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