February 03, 2006

I meet the Statisticians

My thanks to the Statistics Dept for slotting me into the long agenda of their Teaching Committee meeting on 1st February. We has a useful exchange of views on computer-aided assessment (CAA). Here are some of the points raised:

Cost-Effectiveness: The time and effort required to learn to use an assessment package and put well-designed tests online needs to be justified by savings elsewhere and an improvement in student learning.

Deep Learning: Convincing evidence is missing to show that CAA can be used to assess and mediate deeper levels of knowledge and understanding.

Cheating: This is a cental issue in the Statistics Department. They have a strict policy of zero-tolerance of cheating, even for tests with minimal (say 5%) credit. They want to establish very clearly from outset what their testing and examining means because their students come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds (50% from overseas) and may bring differing assumptions and conventions about assessment practice.

Formative Experiment: One of their first-year modules would be suitable for regular online tests of routine knowledge. The tests would

  • keep the students engaged with the module material as it unfolds and
  • provide the Department with useful information about their students' difficulties and progress.

The module is taken by 400 students and the University's largest computer suite available for assessment holds around 50 students. The Department's zero tolerance of cheating would therefore mean 8 hours of invigilated sessions, a very inefficient alternative to the in-class tests currently used. However, online formative tests would be a good way to prepare the students for the summative tests they take in lecture theatres, and it was agreed to try to set these up next year if resources to prepare the material can be found.

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