Computer-marked free text and algebra for improving feedback to current and potential students

IT Innovation ChallengesStaff project based in the Medical Sciences Office

Hilary round 2015

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Computer-marked online formative assessment provides a popular and efficient method of providing personalised feedback to students on their understanding of course material, at a time and place to suit them. Its value in bridging materials has already been established in MPLS and MSD. There is evidence (Angus and Watson, 2009) that regular quizzes can have a significant (positive) impact on student learning.

Of the 160 online formative assessments that Medical Sciences Division Learning Technologies (MSDLT) delivers every year, c. 110 are formative and are largely comprised of various forms of multiple choice question (MCQ). However, despite its many benefits, there is still some unease with the MCQ format, especially outside STEM subjects.

This project aims to address that unease and lower the barriers to adoption of online assessment so that students and staff across the University can reap its many benefits. It will create a system for formative online assessment that delivers and provides feedback on questions answered with:

  • typed free text (from a few words to a short paragraph);
  • typed numbers/algebra (incl. units, decimal places, significant figures);

alongside the usual range of multiple choice question types.

The project will build upon the work of Stephen Pulman (Professor of Computational Linguistics), on feedback on the structure of essays and on marking short answer free texts, to develop a web service. In parallel, MSDLT will develop a plugin to an existing open source assessment system to interact with that service – authoring, delivery, marking and analysis. The complete assessment system will be connected to WebLearn, via a technology called BasicLTI, to create a tool which can be included in any WebLearn site.

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