October 17, 2005

What makes Computer–Aided Assessment desirable?

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/elearning/trends/funding/tqef/existingprojects/sciencescaa/

Here are two desirable features of CAA:

  • It improves student learning

  • It reduces staff time spent on assessment

I intend to debate how CAA might "improve student learning" in a later blog. As for saving staff time, of course the simplest way is to reduce the amount of assessment, although this can carry a price. But if you are going to do some objective testing, either to drive learning or to find out what they've learnt, then CAA can cut the bill over the years despite a big investment up front.

When I asked to Robin Ball in Physics for an invitation to their Teaching Committee to plug the Project, he threw down a challenge: What's the point in spending money on CAA when experience shows that such schemes and experiments usually peter out when the enthusiasts move on? This blog is a response to Robin's challenge to show that CAA can have staying power,

First an evolutionary metaphor: Certainly not all CAA experiments will last the course, but if enough variations are tried, some will be fit for purpose in a suitable ecological niche and hold out until either the niche disappears or something even better comes along. But in this Project I hope the evolution really will be driven by intelligent design! My job will be to discover the niches and design animals that will flourish in them.

So what are criteria for sustainability? The two desirable features mentioned at the outset would be a good start. Here are a few more — but please send me others :

  • Extremely easy authoring (see John Dales' Comment 1 ), or failing that, an inexpensive and accessible authoring service (e.g. from a trained postgraduate student in your discipline)

  • A reliable and secure delivery system, with most decisions (When will the test be? Who will take it? What questions will it include? Where will it take place?) entered in a simple web interface.

  • A culture of handing down the resources of a well-established module from year to year, irrespective of who the module organiser/lecturer is. First-year modules are usually stable long enough for an edict from the Teaching Committee to be workable here.

Robin, over to you.

- 2 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Robin Ball

    To be clear I am strongly convinced of the value of using on-line assessment. The trials I have seen have proved its value and so far as I am concerned you no longer need to prove that. Nevertheless those trials ultimately died when their authors ceased to run them, because the systems lacked central support (server, database, development).
    As I understand matters, presently you have a CAA project, ITS has a CAA service of sorts, and e-Lab have a new project on CAA whose relation to yours and the current ITS service is not clear to me. When I hear you are all cooperating I will be more optimistic that the critical step of continuing support is been addressed.

    Yours, Robin.

    17 Oct 2005, 17:10

  2. Good news, Robin!

    By happy happenstance, I met with the e-Lab team this morning to discuss the interface between their new project and mine. A marriage was arranged and sustainability was agreed to be a priority. Watch this blog.

    18 Oct 2005, 12:32

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