Arlene Hunter

  • Using an online formative assessment framework to enhance student engagement: a learning outcomes approach

    Arlene Hunter
    Open University in Ireland

    Session 1f

    Monday 3 September 2007, 15.45-16.45

    Research seminar

    Themes: Skills development, Better understanding of the discipline, Learning for learning’s sake

    Students learn best when they are fully engaged in the learning process, are motivated to test their current level of learning against known standards, and are offered targeted and timely support to help address subsequent personal learning needs.

    The usual way to do this is through the use of assessment, but this in itself can act as an overbearing influence on what and how students learn, rather than providing an holistic support mechanism that encourages continuous reflective learning. Summative assessment provides a quantitative measure of learning at specific points in time, but may not encourage students to focus on specific strengths and weaknesses; formative assessment can provide specific reflective and feed-forward support, but given the time-poor nature of many students, do they engage with it?

    This paper presents an overview of work in progress (funded by Centre for Open Learning in Maths, Science, Computing and Technology CETL, The Open University), on the development and implementation of an online interactive formative assessment framework, designed from a constructivist and interventionist perspective to promote student engagement and understanding of academic progression, using an learning outcomes approach.

    The framework specifically aims to enhance student awareness, understanding and recognition of competency levels, and to allow testing of ongoing academic progress at predetermined and self-selected points throughout the year. Each assessment makes explicit links to other components of the course (including the summative assessment strategy), as a means of providing an integrated approach to learning. By working through the formative assessments it is hoped students will become more self-directed and confident in their learning skills and abilities, which in turn should improve retention.

    The framework uses OpenMark (a web-based system developed by the OU) in which students have up to three attempts to correctly answer each question, and are offered instantaneous and targeted feedback after each incorrect attempt. The system automatically collects information on student interactions, offering valuable insight into how (and which) students are engaging with the assessment/course. This data permits new targeted feedback to be added in response to common errors, and additional support mechanisms to be incorporated in response to specific skills or content that are poorly demonstrated.

    All feedback is formative, and comments on how well each of the learning outcomes tested over a period of study has been demonstrated, as well as the overall level of academic competency attained at that point in time. At present, the framework encompasses seven interactive assessments, consisting of ten variable-format questions (set at two levels of academic complexity). The eighth assessment will randomly select questions from preceding assessments, offering an instantaneous interactive revision tool.

    Preliminary results indicate students not only rate the assessments as enjoyable, but are revisiting specific assessments to enhance previous outcomes and check their progression on aspects they had had difficulties with. Preliminary results will be presented using a ‘success case model’ approach, as a means of identifying qualitative and quantitative data on the success indicators of this project and hence the implications for future work pertinent to distance and campus-based learners.