November 28, 2005

A Dish Best Served Hot

As my source of inspiration pointed out while administering dinner to our 2-year old Cameron last night, the blog title applies as well to "student feedback" as to "revenge". Effective formative assessment not only provides feedback to the assessor, but more importantly, gives fresh food for thought and enlightenment to the one being assessed.

A week is a long time (as Harold Wilson famously said of life in politics) to wait to find out where you went wrong; even a day later, your brain has probably gone cold. But a computer can tell you within microseconds.

So here's a situation where computer-aided assessment (CAA) can have a clear edge over traditional marking; I say "can" because, to gain the edge, you must take the trouble to design the CAA questions intelligently and to PROVIDE THE APPROPRIATE FEEDBACK (always assuming your software allows it).

I have been trawling through a lot of CAA software lately and have been disappointed by the perfunctory nature of the feedback provided in many samples that put the software through its paces (for instance, a single tick or a cross in response to a set of answers to a 6-part question). But, of course, there are beacons of good practice too. Here are two that caught my attention:

FAST (Formative Assessment in Science Teaching) -- A collaboration between the Open University (OU) and Sheffield Hallam (SHU) aiming to improve student engagement and learning through formative assessment following these principles . The Project has a Science focus (Biosciences, Chemistry, Physics) and is funded through the HEFCE Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL4). There are 30 development projects, 15 at the OU and SHU and 15 more at 13 other HE institutions.

Mathletics (near the bottom of this link's page) — Among the many features of Martin Greenhow's approach to online assessment that commend themselves is the attention given to the pedagogy of question setting and providing detailed feedback. Using his CAA software for modules at Brunel, Martin discovered surprisingly that the feedback is used by some students as their main learning tool. Martin uses the idea of 'mal-rules' (reflecting common conceptual errors) to generate plausible distractors in multiple-choice or multiple-response questions, and more generally uses students' answers to make a informed guesses at their misconceptions and provide targeted feedback.

Please extend this list with other examples of good assessment pedagogy.

Unfortunately the inspiration dried up when I was prevailed upon to take over the feeding of the aforesaid Cameron, slotting in spoonfuls as he wielded a sticky mouse to direct Adiboo's onscreen antics. Just as well this is not a blog on good parenting.

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