Keeping a distance-education course current through elearning and contextual assessment

Hopgood, A. A. and Hirst, A. J. (2007). Keeping a distance-education course current through elearning and contextual assessment. IEEE Transactions on Education, 50(1) pp. 85–96.



Distance education is most economical when delivered to large groups of students over several years. The Open University course T396: Artificial Intelligence for Technology makes use of electronic delivery and a carefully designed assessment strategy to address the challenge of keeping the course up-to-date while remaining economically viable. Three aspects of currency are considered: academic content, organizational context, and breaking news. An electronic study guide permits new forms of interactivity and presentational styles, while allowing the course team the flexibility to maintain the academic content of the course. The organizational context of the course is maintained through integrated Web pages. An electronic conference provides news, such as course announcements, correction of errata, data files for assignments, and lists of frequently asked questions. It also enables students to participate in an extended learning community. Continuous assessment and the final project are designed to assess the students, to allow practice and experimentation, and to provide a vehicle for constructive feedback. The assessment strategy aims to maintain currency by introducing the latest contexts in which artificial intelligence is used. Detailed marking guides ensure consistent marking and demonstrable achievement of the intended learning outcomes. In a survey at the end of the course, a clear majority of students favored the use of the electronic study guide, particularly for teaching genetic algorithms, where the interactivity enabled difficult concepts to be demonstrated in a way that would not be possible on the printed page. The same survey also gave an overwhelming endorsement to the assessment strategy and the online electronic conference.

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