23 March 2011

#H800 Assessing E-learning: Alternatives for the Essay?

I had an interesting Elluminate discussion today with Sukaina and Isabella, two friendly fellow learners, about what we would change to the current assessment method, which I explained in a previous post.

Before making changes, we discussed about the objective of the assessment.  The assessment may actually serve various objectives, like:
  • Offering learners the opportunity to go through all the materials and try to make sense of it;
  •  Helping learners to develop an efficient system of organizing and retrieving resources;
  • Stimulating learners to formulate their thoughts in a concise way;
  •  Stimulate learners to think about what they have encountered in block 1 of the course;
  • Providing feedback to learners/ teachers whether they are ready for the “next step”.
Although the writing of an essay may not cover all the skills necessary for the course, I feel that quite a lot are actually covered, such as selecting, reading, assessing and retrieving materials, formulating one’s thoughts, connect different ideas and creative thinking.  So, coming up with something better is not easy.  We found that writing our assessment forced us to evaluate our personal learning management, re-thinking the tools we use to store resources, text fragments, notes and references in an optimal way.  In this way, the course resembles a MOOC, in the way that finding your way in the wealth of learning materials and discussions is an important learning outcome in its own way.

Image courtesy Sheffield Institute

One area for improvement is to strengthen the interactivity of the assignment through peer assessment.  Learners could be stimulated to read each other’s paper (as an optional activity) and comment on it.  This may provide useful feedback for both parties, in particular for students new to the OU.  A second way of adding interactivity could be to include a discussion with the tutor about the paper as part of the assessment.  During this discussion, the tutor could ask additional questions or clarifications about the paper.

A second area for improvement could be to increase the weight of the contributions in the online discussion forums.  A 20% weight in the continuous assessment doesn’t seem to fully correspond with the time spent on reading, writing and reacting on the forums.  Nevertheless, I find interactive forum discussion useful for many activities.

A final issue for discussion is the word limit, for some welcoming, for others annoying.  In my view, being able to express your thought concisely is one of the skills to learn.  It forces yourself to remove all unnecessary clutter from your writing.
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