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
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
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
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.
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.