Improving E-Assessment Systems With A focus On Adaptive Feedback And Marking

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Institutions involved in the provision of tertiary education across Europe are feeling the pinch. European universities, and other higher education (HE) institutions, must operate in a climate where the pressure of government spending cuts (Garben, 2012) is in stark juxtaposition to the EU’s strategy to drive forward and maintain a growth of student numbers in the sector (eurostat, 2015).

In order to remain competitive, universities and HE institutions are making ever-greater use of electronic assessment (E-Assessment) systems (Chatzigavriil et all, 2015; Ferrell, 2012). These systems are attractive primarily because they offer a cost-effect and scalable approach for assessment. In addition to scalability, they also offer reliability, consistency and impartiality; furthermore, from the perspective of a student they are most popular because they can offer instant feedback (Walet, 2012).

There are disadvantages, though.

First, feedback is often returned to a student immediately on competition of their assessment. While it is possible to disable the instant feedback option (this is often the case during an end of semester exam period when assessment scores must be can be ratified before release), however, this option tends to be a global ‘all on’ or ‘all off’ configuration option which is controlled centrally rather than configurable on a per-assessment basis.

If a formative in-term assessment is to be taken by multiple groups of
students, each at different times, this restriction means that answers to each question will be disclosed to the first group of students undertaking the assessment. As soon as the answers are released “into the wild” the academic integrity of the assessment is lost for subsequent student groups.

Second, the style of feedback provided to a student for each question is often limited to a simple ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ indicator. While this type of feedback has its place, it often does not provide a student with enough insight to improve their understanding of a topic that they did not answer correctly.

Most E-Assessment systems boast a wide range of question types including Multiple Choice, Multiple Response, Free Text Entry/Text Matching and Numerical questions. The design of these types of questions is often quite restrictive and formulaic, which has a knock-on effect on the quality of feedback that can be provided in each case.

Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) are most prevalent as they are the most prescriptive and therefore most the straightforward to mark consistently. They are also the most amenable question types, which allow easy provision of meaningful, relevant feedback to each possible outcome chosen.
Text matching questions tend to be more problematic due to their free text entry nature. Common misspellings or case-sensitivity errors can often be accounted for by the software but they are by no means fool proof, as it is very difficult to predict in advance the range of possible variations on an answer that would be considered worthy of marks by a manual marker of a paper based equivalent of the same question.

Numerical questions are similarly restricted. An answer can be checked for accuracy or whether it is within a certain range of the correct answer, but unless it is a special purpose-built mathematical E-Assessment system the system is unlikely to have computational capability and so cannot, for example, account for “method marks” which are commonly awarded in paper-based marking.

From a pedagogical perspective, the importance of providing useful formative feedback to students at a point in their learning when they can benefit from the feedback and put it to use must not be understated (Grieve et all, 2015; Ferrell, 2012).

In this work, we propose a number of software-based solutions, which will overcome the limitations and inflexibilities of existing E-Assessment systems.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2016
EventEuropean Conference on Educational Research: ECER 2016 Leading Education: The Distinct Contributions of Educational Research and Researchers - University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 22 Aug 201626 Aug 2016


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Educational Research
Abbreviated titleECER 2016
Internet address


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