Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sustainable learning through formative assessment: Using quizzes to maintain engagement

The ideal is to move from a teacher-centered to student-centered education. There can be a trap where people can fall into a technology-centered education (rather than technology-enabled). The presenter, Lynette Nagel, talked about the Chartered Accountants course at the University of Pretoria, for which there is increased demand, a call for international accreditation, and challenges such as a set curriculum and inflexible standards.

Pass rates have been dropping over the last few years to less than 60% in 2010. More students have been allowed into this qualification even if they hadn't done accounting at school, and had a poor score in an aptitude test. In the supplemental groups - Q1 there were 12 lectures per week, and Q2-4 there were 8 lectures per week. The group knew that the students had been working with unskilled teachers with a focus on rote learning, and they have poor English, little vocabulary, and poor problem-solving skills.

The group started with focus group interviews with the students, and explored why the students did so poorly initially. Social commitments, poor time management, other subjects, and a large number of tests were big issues. Accounting was not seem as important and the students did not realise that the theory was important.

The initiative first addressed the issue of Accounting not being seen as important...and increased the scaffolding, so, for example, students realised that they had to study the theory before doing the practicals. The numbers grew in the supplemental teaching classes with students sitting in the aisles. One solution was to use the tutors. The tutors are second year, average students, and are closer to their students than the lecturers are. Technology was then used to create a Socratic environment drawing on a 3-step process. The Tutors were supported to create a good multiple choice quiz, and only focussed on the key concepts of a specific theory per week. Simple lay-language was used, and each question had to have feedback in ordinary language. Catches in the question were also explained, and calculations came with explanations. The questions were all uploaded into WebCT Vista.

The students completed the quizzes, and the tutors were able to see where the issues were and help the students individually. The students reported that they found the quizzes useful, and particularly liked the immediate theory. There were also comments about being able to chunk up the learning and have a cumulative sense of learning. Eight-one percent of students repeating the course saw the quiz as generally useful, 84% saw the feedback generally useful, the first time students (86%) valued having a second attempt at the quiz, but only 38 to 50% saw the quizzes were useful for preparing for formal tests.

By 2012 the pass rate was 75%. This appears to be really strong support for a way of scaffolding students who are used to a teacher-centred, rote learning environment. These students may have found it quite tricky to transition to a less structured approach. While it wasn't a ground-breaking study, it did illustrate how a combination of online learning and a tutor-based approach can be effective.

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