A Personalised Assessment Programme in Engineering Education
The number of students entering higher education has grown considerably during the last decade. High student numbers and the attendant large class sizes present significant challenges for teachers. Such challenges include knowing how to ensure students are engaging in appropriate out-of-class activity, how to provide prompt and personalised feedback and how to establish what students know and what they don't. If these challenges are left un-resolved the students' learning will not be well supported. This could ultimately lead to students failing modules. This research presents a response to the growth of the student population and was prompted by a high failure rate in a core first year engineering module. The large numbers of students enrolled on the module presented exactly the kinds of challenges noted above, and the existing assessment regime did little to motivate student learning. The response presented in this thesis is the design, development, testing, implementation and evaluation of a new assessment programme; an approach to assessment that provides students with unique weekly tasks. The tasks were formally assessed and contributed towards the students' marks for the module. To ensure the viability of the assessment programme, bespoke computer tools were developed to create, collect and mark the tasks, and to provide feedback to the students. The implementation has been evaluated through an exploration of the impact of the assessment programme on student support, teaching and student learning. In three of the four years where the students were exposed to the assessment programme, the failure rate on the module decreased. The reduction in failure rate is arguably associated with the alignment of the assessment programme with good pedagogy. During the implementation of the assessment programme, the students were engaging in appropriate out-of-class activity in relation to the current topic area. The students had an opportunity to engage in dialogue with their peers and were receiving prompt and regular feedback. The teachers also benefited, since they were able to prepare lectures according to the students' level of demonstrable understanding. In the case where the failure rate did not improve, the students themselves suggested they were downloading and using worked solutions to the problems from the internet. It is suggested that such activity neither provides meaningful opportunity to practise, nor alerts the students to their genuine levels of understanding of the topic areas. In this case the students were following solution procedures rather than developing their own. Student feedback on the assessment has been positive, with many noting how being led to engage with their studies was useful. Somewhat concerning was the feedback from students who noted "they thought the work would help them with their examinations", "they wanted the assessment programme used on other modules" and yet many indicated "they would not have engaged with the activity if it did not count towards the module grade".