Combining off-line and on-line assessment for distributed learning

As part of a new programme for flexible and distance learning, CREST, Eng TLSC and the Department. of Computing Services at Loughborough University have developed a series of Continuing Professional Development Units in Renewable Energy Systems Technology. Over 70 students employed by SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) across the UK participated in the inaugural course (March-June 2001). The course utilised a hybrid CD-ROM/WWW/SMTP learning and teaching approach. Summative and formative assessment was performed off-line via the course's learning support CD-ROM (due in part to issues connected with learners' Internet access). Student's answer files were then uploaded to the University's secure 'CRESTDL@Learn' WWW server for tutor marking and data evaluation. This paper describes the strategic and technical development of the work, along with practical aspects of its implementation. Specific areas explored include: • CAA issues for distributed learners; • Baseline data and pre-evaluation; • Design of individual assessment profiles for industry-based learners; • Development of the hybrid WWW/CD assessment system; • Determining the CAA question protocols; • Student and staff evaluation of the system; • Advantages of the system when marketing the courses in the corporate sector. The results indicate that such a 'hybrid' approach can provide students with effective access to a complete virtual learning environment, without an Internet connection being a pre-requisite. Such an "anytime, anyplace" system may be integrated with a Webbased tutorial support infrastructure to provide a full range of VLE tools.