Computer-Aided Assessment as a
Holistic Learning Tool in Geoscience


The full version of this paper is available from the Computer Assisted Assessment (CAA) Centre web site.


Dawn T. Nicholson

School of Earth Sciences, University of Leeds


There exists a common perception that computer-assisted assessment (CAA) is synonymous with summative multiple choice testing. This narrow view may be partly responsible for the lack of enthusiasm often encountered among academic staff to incorporate CAA into teaching programmes. This has been the experience in attempts to promote the use of communications and information technology in the curriculum (the CANDIT Project) in the Earth and Environment Faculty at University of Leeds. This is a two year university-wide project funded by HEFCE's Teaching Quality Enhancement Fund. Nevertheless the project has uncovered a wide range of CAA applications in use in the faculty, albeit on a somewhat sporadic basis. In this paper, examples of the imaginative employment of CAA in geosciences are used to illustrate that far from the narrow image of CAA for lower order cognitive testing, CAA can be a major player in a much more holistic, higher order learning environment.

For assessment of lower order cognition, MCQ's are used in a conventional way for summative assessment and for self assessment and revision. However, there are also examples of the use of MCQ's primarily as a teaching, rather than an assessment tool, and for assessment of higher order cognition. Interactive CBL and web-based resources incorporate smart assessment systems with revision loops, where poor scores on a test prevent further progression until a revision area with alternate questions has successfully been visited. A growing number and variety of Virtual Field Resources (VFR's) are being developed by geoscience staff, some of which contain elements of formal CAA while others involve a subtle type of self assessment. For example, an assignment is set (for completion off-line) which cannot be undertaken successfully without reading, applying and synthesising the information provided in the on-line resource. Thus students who have difficulty with the assignment effectively employ their own assessment and feedback by re-visiting the resource. Further developments in CAA are being encouraged at LU using the in-house managed learning environment (MLE) 'Bodington Common'. This facility incorporates several possibilities for on-line assessment including tutor marking of short answer questions and electronic submission for on or off-line tutor marking. The latter is of particular interest because it opens up opportunities for introducing student management tools such as plagiarism detection.

Currently, implementation of CAA in the faculty is undertaken somewhat sporadically, largely according to the interests of individual staff rather than any faculty-wide strategy. The challenges for the future are (i) to broaden the narrow perception of CAA by demonstrating its potential for learning at both low and high orders of cognition; (ii) to encourage greater take-up of CAA especially where this affords opportunities for knock-on effects such as management of learning by the use of electronic submission and plagiarism detection; and (iii) to co-ordinate the implementation of different CAA methods within a programme in order that students experience a balanced learning environment.

Keywords: Computer assisted assessment; teaching; learning; geoscience