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Computer Aided Assessment MUST be more than multiple-choice tests for it to be academically credible?

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conference contribution
posted on 22.05.2006 by P. Davies
Computer Aided Assessment (CAA) is being proposed as the means of providing formative testing to the ever-increasing numbers of students involved in higher education. A large proportion of this testing is being based around the use of objective based multiple-choice tests. These tend to make use of the process of select one out of three possible answers, or to improve the reliability of the process, one out of four! Obviously there are alternatives to the above, however, a lecturer initially will use the method that is easiest for them. With the complexity, multifunctionality and hence steep learning curve involved in setting up these systems, many lecturers are dumping them before their benefits can be achieved. Question banks are available, however, these normally require an initial financial outlay. The questions offered are often general, and may not directly map to the areas covered in a particular module. No matter what system is utilised for these objective tests, the criticism offered by CAA sceptics is "we are not developing employable and transferable skills". Students on leaving higher education will rarely be expected to produce answers for their employers that require multiple-choice skills, but will be expected to produce reports, presentations, etc. The question that springs to mind is ... what is our job as educators, to produce clones, or to develop and nurture broader skills? The use of formative multiple choice tests is also causing a problem in that students are not being "prepared" to sit their final examinations. These often still take the format of select three from five questions and then write essays for each of the selected questions in a limited time period. Having students develop essays as part of their formative/summative assessment throughout the course of a module, again brings us back to the time consuming problem of having to mark and provide formative feedback. This paper introduces the audience to the Computerised Assessment and Plagiarism system (Davies 2000), that provides an on-line means of students assessing the essays of their peers, and providing formative feedback. This system has been successfully used at levels one, two and three of an undergraduate programme in the field of computer studies at the University of Glamorgan. It has been used for continual assessment at level one, a combination of multiple choice / peer assessment at level two, and for self, peer and reflective self-assessment at level three. The use of this networked tool has produced major positive benefits both for the students and staff. Its acceptance has not only provided an efficient method for formative / summative assessment, but has also aided in developing the students' essay writing skills. From a lecturer's point of view, those who in the past have been sceptical of the use of peer assessment and the more general use of objective testing, have become much more receptive to the introduction of these innovative assessment methods making use of CAA.
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DAVIES, P., 2001. Computer Aided Assessment MUST be more than multiple-choice tests for it to be academically credible? Proceedings of the 5th CAA Conference, Loughborough: Loughborough University


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