Awakened by foxes

By |September 7th, 2012|Recent news|0 Comments

As I lay awake to the sound of mating foxes and postgraduate students (please be reassured that, so far as I can discern, they are purely intra-species relations), I look back at what has happened since my blog update.

The conference season has taken me to Brighton, Sheffield and Salamanca: to the BSRLM Day Conference, CETL-MSOR Conference and SEFI MWG Seminar, respectively. At each I presented my findings on lecturers’ use of computer-aided assessment.

Since then, I have been continuing with data collection; first interviewing students and, second, interviewing lecturers that do not use CAA. In this time I have also finished a first draft of a thesis chapter, which feels like a milestone passing despite the shortcomings I see in it.

I managed to squeeze in a holiday to Rome, which was very nice. I particularly liked the Vittorio Emanuele II monument for its ostentatiousness and sheer ridiculousness. It reached a dazzling 37°C while we were there: a feat so far unmatched by the drizzling United Kingdom. We, of course, remain hopeful of a late summer surge!

SEFI MWG, Salamanca, Spain

By |June 30th, 2012|2012, Presentations|0 Comments

Lecturers’ beliefs and practices on the use of computer-aided assessment to enhance learning


16th SEFI MWG Seminar
28-30 June 2012
Universidad de Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain


This project examines the effectiveness of the use of computer-aided assessment (CAA) to enhance the learning of mathematics in one of the largest cohort of mathematics and engineering undergraduates in the country. The CAA system in use at this university in the United Kingdom provides lecturers with a means to test hundreds of students efficiently. A question bank of thousands of items, with feedback for each item, is available and dedicated staff prepare and upload tests.

However, despite easing the workload and giving students the opportunity to obtain immediate feedback on their work, many lecturers experience conflict between computer-aided assessment practice and their own assessment beliefs. For example, lecturers may wish to assess conceptual understanding and mathematical competencies, but there are some concerns that CAA questions may assess only procedural understanding. Some lecturers would like to develop new questions but worry that the restrictions imposed by the system narrow the scope of what students can be tested on. Lecturers may wish to encourage collaboration and discussion between students for practice (formative) tests, but what if the students collaborate for real (summative) tests? Should summative tests always be invigilated? Many students can obtain 100% in summative tests, but lecturers are not clear of the level of understanding that students have or what learning has taken place.

In this study, we examine lecturers’ beliefs and practices on the use of computer-aided assessment to enhance learning. Our methodological approach was to administer questionnaires to nine lecturers of mathematics-based first-year modules, followed by interviews with seven lecturers that volunteered to be interviewed. A number of different practices emerged and lecturers explained their choices. The interviews explored the options that lecturers selected in the questionnaire in more detail. They were designed to elicit the collaborations and conflicts within this learning community that arise through CAA and to establish lecturers’ views of the effectiveness of CAA at assessing students. Such conflicts give scope for lecturers to change the way they use CAA (Engeström and Sannino 2010). The lecturers described what they believe CAA measures in these students and how compatible these measures are with their ideals.

We present the lecturers’ perceptions of CAA from these questionnaires and interviews. These findings are a progression towards our overarching aims to identify best practices in the delivery of CAA to mathematics and engineering students and to evaluate the effectiveness of CAA at assessing and advancing students, from the perspectives of both the lecturer and the student.