13 February 2012

#H807 Case studies in elearning innovation (1): formative e-assessment

This case study description is part of Activity 2 - Week 2 in the H807 course at the OU.

The first case study describes the introduction of formative e-assessment in an first-year undergraduate micro-economics course at the University of Derby.  It's a course attracting 200 to 300 students with a wide range of academic backgrounds.

The main objective of the e-assessment was to increase retention rates by improving students' skills for self-regulated learning.  The e-assessment was organized as a complement to face-to-face lectures and tutorials.  The formative assessment included a weekly range of exercises such as simulations, drag and pull diagrams, recognition exercises, calculation activities and concept identification activities.  Extensive feedback loops and links to course and other materials were integrated into the exercises. Student access was monitored and students failing to login by week 3 were contacted and invited for remedial clinics.

Results were largely positive.  There were increases in pass rates and grades achieved and the drop out rate declined.  Students liked the materials,  practising course concepts in between lectures. They appreciated the feedback loops and indicated the material increased their confidence to engage during the tutorials.  Also, students treated the activity as a social activity, sharing their progress on social networks.  For the institution the materials enabled identifying weaker students at an early stage of the course, so they could be given additional support.  Moreover, the materials triggered other elearning uptakes as lecturers learned from the experiment.

There were some disadvantages though. Due to memory constraints materials could only be accessed within the institution (would be addressed for later runs).  More seriously, making and regularly updating the materials proved very time-intensive. Remedial clinics were dropped in the second run.  For courses with fewer students the development cost may be too high. The type of subject, which requires regular practice and development of knowledge and skills in a short time frame, is likely more suitable to this type of formative  e-assessment than others.

The case study shows nicely how e-assessment is aligned with the face-to-face component of the course, making new things possible.  Feedback was more personalized. The on-line activities made it possible to use lecture time and tutorials more efficiently.  Links to course materials were embedded in the e-assessment.  Better monitoring allowed reducing the drop out rate.  

The case study illustrates some guiding principles for successful formative assessment such as immediate feedback and links to course materials.  Also, limitations and drawbacks are discussed

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