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In the last issue of CDTL Brief, we presented to you the first of a two-part discussion on IT in Education Today. In this second part of the discussion, we feature reportson some of the current uses of IT for teaching and assessment in NNUS and Ngee Ann Polytechnic, and guidelines on the facilitation of the onlince disscussion forums

October 2001, Vol. 4 No. 4 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Using IT for Tutoring and Assessment at Ngee Ann Polytechnic
 
Mr Tan Hock Guan
Manager, Computer Based Learning Centre
Ngee Ann Polytechnic
 

Introduction

The use of IT to aid learning and assessment has been a continuing quest for staff at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. In the last fifteen years, there have been many initiatives and much has been learnt. In 1997, the Polytechnic piloted a Computerized Tutoring and Assessment (CTA) programme to use IT to enhance learning. Its online Computer Assisted Tutoring (CATu) and Computer Assisted Testing (CATe) facilities strive to achieve greater productivity for all. The basic approach we have taken is to hand over those tasks that can be automated to the computers. This article presents some of the rationale behind the programme.

Why Use IT for Tutoring?

Traditional teaching in the classroom often involves the use of tutorials to assist students in practising what they have learnt in the lectures. However, it is time consuming for lecturers concerned to mark tutorial work due to the large number of students in each module. To use tutorial hours to help students tackle problems that they cannot solve is also an issue when students have yet to attempt the tutorial questions given out previously. Little learning can take place if students resort to copying solutions from one another. Teaching on subsequent topics becomes harder when students fall behind in their tutorial work.

Moreover, it is hard for lecturers to reach out to weaker students or help those with specific learning problems in a group of 20 or more students and all the tutorial questions must also be covered. At the same time, students who have understood their work well and completed their tutorials early are still required to attend tutorial classes because of the compulsory attendance system.

In using CATu, many of the above issues can be tackled. First, we automate tutorial question items by randomising the values of the parameters in the questions so that each student will receive similar questions but with different values for each parameter. In this way, students have to work on their own questions because the answers are different. At the very least, they will need to learn how to solve the problems as well as the formulae needed to solve the problems. Peer tutoring is encouraged. We also ensure there is sufficient feedback in the tutoring items to assist the students in solving a problem.

Next, we place the tutorial papers on the Internet. In this way, the students are presented with their tutorials right from the first day of their course. They can access these from anywhere and in their own time before each of the due dates.

Third, since data is captured, computed and stored in the tutoring server, lecturers can monitor students’ progress, identify the question items that pose difficulties, and provide necessary guidance to see that students are on schedule, thus ensuring progressive learning. In addition, students who have completed their tutorials can attend to other learning activities and lecturers can coach smaller groups of students who need further help. This leads to productive use of time for all.

Why Use IT for Assessment?

In traditional teaching, tests or assessments at mid-term are often used as an instrument for lecturers to check on the progress of students. Often, the paper test approach requires much of the lecturers’ time in marking during which they will still need to continue with teaching. The marking, checking, compilation of test reports, and the announcement of results usually take about two to three weeks. At times, there is no feedback available to students until the end of the semester or just before the examinations. Meanwhile, students are anxious to know their results and where they have gone wrong in the tests. Any review, consolidation of students’ knowledge and skills, or rectification can only be done after the results are officially released.

CATe is used to solve some of the above problems. We automate whatever question items that can be tested using the computer. We make further use of the same approach for the automating of tutorial questions. Hence, students are given sets of questions drawn from randomised question pools that also make use of changing question parameters to prevent cheating. These test items also carry relevant feedback that is included by the lecturers.

Students receive their test results while lecturers receive their students’ performance reports immediately after each test. Reviews can be conducted to allow students to find out where they have gone wrong. They can challenge the computerised marking by submitting a feedback form. In this way, learning takes place and any misconception can be quickly rectified.

In some cases, students are allowed a chance to take a second test (a newly set one) to better their marks when they score below a stipulated class mark. If they can perform better than the class mark in the second attempt, they will be awarded the class mark. A re-test is necessary for those who score below 50% on a test.

In the above ways, CATe is used both as a support for learning, as well as a performance measurement tool. It also leads to better use of time for all concerned and a system for continual improvement in test and item design for lecturers.

Conclusion

The pilot programme in 1997 has led to a full-scale implementation of CTA at the Polytechnic in 1998. Lecturers whose modules can make use of this programme have been encouraged to take part in the implementation. Today, there are some 90 modules using CATu and some 200 modules using CATe. Over the years, the Polytechnic has invested much on infrastructure to support the programme. Both students and lecturers continue to make use of CATu and CATe in learning and assessment. As part of our continual improvement efforts, the Polytechnic is also currently studying other methods for assisting student learning and better measurement of performance.

 
 
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Inside this issue
A New Paradigm in Teaching Computer Science
   
Using IT for Tutoring and Assessment at Ngee Ann Polytechnic
   
Maximising the Potential of Computer Mediated Discussion: Guidelines for Facilitation