Computer Managed Assignments in First Year Tertiary Science: a Component in Effective, Efficient Teaching.

Year: 1989

Author: Wilson, Michael, Harper, Barry, Lewis, Roger

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Tertiary institutions are under considerable pressure to teach more efficiently and effectively. However constraints on staffing, which effect many Universities in Australia and elsewhere, have meant that resources devoted to teaching have been severely stretched. This, together with increasing student numbers, has produced situations such as that facing a science department at The University of Wollongong which has found itself teaching, what were intended originally to be tutorial style Problem Solving Classes (PSC) to groups of up to 200 students in a lecture theatre. In an attempt to provide a more effective but nevertheless staff efficient mode of presentation the department set up a system of Computer Managed Assignments (CMA). Under this system students draw individual computer generated weekly sets of multiple choice problems, work at them in their own time and later return to the computer to have their answers marked and their scores recorded. The computer also provides feedback on incorrect answers and allows students to draw a further set of problems if they wish to do so. This paper describes a comparative evaluation of the PSC and CMA systems. The students in the first year subject in which the CMA system was to be used were divided randomly into two equal groups. The first group was allocated to CMA for the first half of the Session and the second group to PSC for the same period. At the mid Session break the two groups were interchanged. Student participation in the two systems was monitored throughout the Session. At mid Session and again at the end of the Session each student completed a questionnaire on their experience of the tutorial system to which they had been allocated. Thus at the end of the Session each student was able, and was asked, to compare the two systems. In addition each student's score on each item of the end of Session final examination was recorded. Each of these examination items could be linked to a topic taught in either the first or second half of the Session. Thus it was possible to calculate for each of the two student groups the mean examination scores for 1) the topics studied through CMA and 2) the topics studied in PSC. These final scores showed a consistent and significant difference in favour of the CMA for both student groups and for the different topics taught in each half of the Session. In addition the questionnaire responses showed a marked student preference for the CMA system - mainly because of its flexibility and convenience. Many more students completed the weekly CMA than the problems set for the PSC. At the same time there were concerns among CMA students at the lack of direct contact with staff and with the quality and quantity of the feedback from the computer system. PSC students on the other hand, while they did greatly value the experience of simply seeing problems they had attempted worked through by the tutor, complained that contact with staff at the PSC was quite inadequate . The paper concludes with recommendations for the integration of CMA with other forms of teaching in ways which the evidence indicates would be effective, broadly acceptable to students and efficient in the use of resources, particularly academic staff teaching time.