Using an online formative assessment framework to enhance student engagement: a learning outcomes approach

Hunter, Arlene (2007). Using an online formative assessment framework to enhance student engagement: a learning outcomes approach. In: 15th Improving Student Learning symposium, 03-05 Sep 2007, Dublin, Republic of Ireland.



Students learn best when they are fully engaged in the learning process, are motivated to test their current level of learning against known standards, and are offered targeted and timely support to help address subsequent personal learning needs.

The most usual way to do this is through the use of assessment, but this in itself can act as an overbearing influence on what and how students learn, rather than providing an holistic support mechanism that encourages continuous reflective learning. Summative assessment provides a quantitative measure of learning at specific points in time, but may not encourage students to focus on specific strengths and weaknesses in need of attention. Formative assessment can provide specific reflective and feed-forward support, but given the time-poor nature of many students, is this perceived as a useful part of the learning process?

This paper presents an overview of work in progress (funded by Centre for Open Learning in Maths, Science, Computing and Technology CETL at The Open University), on the development and implementation of an online interactive formative assessment framework, that has designed from a constructivist perspective, to promote student engagement and understanding of academic progression, using an learning outcomes approach.

The framework specifically aims to enhance student awareness, understanding and recognition of competency levels, and to allow testing of ongoing academic progress at predetermined and self-selected points throughout the year. Each assessment makes explicit links to other components of the course including the summative assessment strategy, as a means of providing an integrated approach to learning. By working through the formative assessments it is hoped that students will become more self-directed and confident in their learning skills and abilities, which in turn should improve retention.

The framework uses OpenMark (a web-based system developed within the Open University) in which students have up to three attempts to correctly answer each question, and are offered instantaneous and targeted feedback after each incorrect attempt. The system collects information on the answers submitted, and the time taken to complete each question, offering valuable insight into how (and which) students are engaging with the assessment and course materials. This data permits new targeted feedback to be added in response to common errors, as well as additional support mechanisms to be incorporated in response to specific skills or content that is poorly demonstrated.

All feedback in the framework is formative, commenting on how well each of the learning outcomes tested over a period of study has been demonstrated, as well as the overall level of academic competency attained at that point in time. At present, the framework encompasses seven interactive assessments (linked to fortnightly periods of study), consisting of ten variable-format questions (set at two levels of academic complexity). A planned eighth assessment will randomly select questions from preceding assessments, offering an instantaneous interactive revision tool.

Preliminary results indicate that students not only rate the assessments as enjoyable, but are revisiting specific assessments as a means of enhancing previous outcomes and checking their progression on aspects they previously had difficulties with.

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