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    Assessment Design Tips from eAssessment Scotland

    By Jessica Gramp, on 5 November 2012

    xomputer-based examinationThe Assessment Design Tips seminar preceding the eAssessment Scotland Conference in 2011 was a hands-on workshop that revealed these valuable assessment design tips.


    Assessment design: where to start?

    1. Start by writing the assessment’s overall learning objectives and let the student know what these are.
    2. For each question determine what it is you want students to demonstrate knowing.
    3. When writing distractors (wrong answers) think back to common misconceptions your students have demonstrated in the past and see if you can capture these in the incorrect answers. You can then point them in the right direction in the feedback (if it’s a formative assessment).
    4. Once you have finished writing, give the questions to someone who doesn’t know the topic and see if they can guess the correct answers. If they can you have probably made one of the mistakes mentioned below.


    SMS for teaching and learning

    By Jessica Gramp, on 14 September 2012

    mobile_phone_in_handSMS doesn’t need to be limited to administrative tasks. It is being used by some teachers to motivate students to continue their studies out of the classroom and is having a positive effect on student retention. Clare Killen, Rob Englebright and Matt Smith spoke about the use of SMS in Further Education at ALT-C 2012. Read more about the session here:

    While some of the uses described here can still be classed as administrative they did have a positive affect on students’ study habits. SMS was used to communicate with students to:

    • deliver homework tasks
    • send maths questions – students text back their answers
    • send presentation date & time reminders
    • send assessment due date reminders


    Some of the issues that students faced included:

    • they were out of phone credit and couldn’t respond immediately
    • phones were sometimes out of range or had weak signal strength so messages came through to different students at different times
    • some students were not comfortable with texting
    • some students didn’t want the lecturer to have their phone number

    Students with privacy concerns, access issues or who were not comfortable texting were able to email their responses to their teacher instead.

    The trial was conducted in two forms. One method involved using SMS technology within the classroom. The other involved texting the students outside of the classroom – once or twice per week. Students didn’t like in class texting as much as out of class texting.


    In the classroom:

    • signal strength issues with different students on different networks delayed delivery to some students and not others
    • students found the lessons became disjointed


    Out of the classroom:

    • students liked the contact
    • some looked forward to receiving the texts

    Overall students reacted positively to being sent school related text messages a couple of times a week. They said it felt it helped them stay on task and also helped them to feel part of a community. Teaching staff noticed a marked improvement in student retention because students who received text messages felt they had been able to still contribute when they were absent from school. Teachers could send messages to absent students encouraging them to return to class, so they were less likely to feel like they were too far behind to return.

    Association of Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C) Day 1

    By Jessica Gramp, on 11 September 2012

    In the first plenary session for the ALT-C conference this year, Eric Mazur from Harvard University spoke about how student’s brain activity slows during lectures. The highlighted area to the immediate left of the circled lecture periods in the graph below shows that student’s brains are more active during sleep than during traditional lectures. Eric argues that analysing classroom data is essential to improving teaching.

    Eric Mazur presenting a graph showing the brain activity of students during lectures (circled)

    20120911_101657So how do students actually learn?

    Information transfer is the easy part. The hard part where students need to understand the concepts is often being left to students to do on their own. Eric Mazur realised that most of his own “ah-hah” moments of understanding came outside of the classroom. He now uses voting handsets to involve students in his lectures. After voting he asks students to find someone who disagrees with their answer and then try to convince their neighbour  why their own answer is correct. His collaborative approach to teaching ensures students stay engaged during lectures.

    Women in particular thrive in a collaborative environment as opposed to a competitive one, so they perform better when he involves them in his lectures.  He also encourages students to work together to complete their homework.

    Lecture demonstrations are not as effective as students doing the activity themselves because students may make incorrect assumptions about what the demonstrator has done to achieve the results. Asking students to predict the outcome of the demonstration, record their observation of the demo and then discuss whether they correctly predicted the outcome of the demonstration with their peers leads to a better understanding of the core concepts.

    The reason for this is that “the brain stores models not facts.” You need to give students time to re-adjust their models in the lecture. Otherwise students are more likely to continue to believe in their incorrect models. This effect is known in psychology as cognitive dissonance. Predicting, explaining and discussing the concepts makes a significant difference in the ability for students to absorb the correct models. The graph below shows a significant improvement in understanding by those students who had predicted the demonstration results and an even higher improvement by those who also discussed their predications after the demonstration.

    Eric Mazur showing the improvement in results as students are asked to predict and discuss the results of a demonstration

    2012-09-11 10.57.48

    It’s difficult to teach students who have the wrong model, because teachers who understand the correct model find it difficult to understand where these students are coming from. Asking students to show their working out helps teachers to understand their misconceptions. Instead of just marking incorrect answers as wrong and leaving it at that, Eric Mazur argues that teachers should concentrate on understanding the thinking behind the incorrect answers. That way they can help students to re-adjust their thinking to incorporate the correct models.

    Read more: Classroom Demonstrations: Learning Tools or Entertainment?

    Eric Mazur also asks students to tell him what they find difficult or confusing from their readings before the lecture. He asked students to provide him with at least 2 concepts they found confusing and also some feedback on why they found the items confusing. If they found nothing difficult they had to provide him with two examples of what they found interesting and why. He then adapts his lecture to address the areas students found most difficult to comprehend.  This method is known as just in time teaching. You can find out more about this method in the book Just in time teaching: blending active learning with web technology (Novak et al., Prentice Hall, 1999).

    Eric Mazur’s research shows that confused students are around twice as likely to understand a concept than those who claim they understand it2012-09-11 11.19.24

    In Eric’s study, those students who mentioned they were confused by a concept were roughly twice as likely to demonstrate understanding than those who said they understood it, so “confusion doesn’t correlate with misunderstanding.”  He concluded that those students who claim to understand are likely to have passively read the material instead of properly comprehending it. It’s important to ask students to reflect on what they have read. One way to do this is to ask students to write their own analogy for difficult concepts. Eric Mazur says that “confusion is an essential part of the learning process…and should be elicited.”

    Read more: Understanding Confusion

    More information about Eric Mazur’s research is available from his website:

    Turnitin’s up and coming features

    By Jessica Gramp, on 16 August 2012

    Stay up to date with new features on the Turnitin Product Twitter page:

    Features in the pipeline for Turnitin include:

    • An Instructor dashboard will soon be available via Moodle – this shows an activity stream, quick links and an overview of assignment submissions
    • See a count of how many times each student has submitted to Turnitin
    • Staff will soon be able to push only those assignments that have been graded to students, without having to show everyone their grades at one time
    • Non-text based assignment submissions that don’t need to be checked for plagiarism will be possible in Turnitin to allow staff to use Grademark to provide feedback
    • URL submissions will enable  students to submit a website, YouTube video or portfolio link to Turnitin for marking

    Available late August 2012:

    • Students can retrieve digital receipts from Turnitin, so if the emailed receipt goes missing there is another way to access proof of when they submitted

    Coming in January 2013:

    • PeerMark integration with Moodle for peer assessment (Note: UCL doesn’t currently have a PeerMark license)
    • iPad application for offline marking (Windows and Android devices to follow)
    New technologies:
    • Turnitin are working with technology that detects changes in the style of writing to flag areas of assignments that may have been ghost written
    • Support for Arabic, and other right to left languages, is being developed
    • Translated plagiarism detection, where Turnitin translates non-English documents into English and then compares this to work submitted by students in English, is also being developed

    » Read more about the conference on UCL’s Teaching and Learning Portal

    Moodle 2 features

    By Jessica Gramp, on 24 July 2012

    Moodle 2 logo (c)

    While many of the old features you are used to in Moodle have not changed greatly in Moodle 2 there are some new features you may be interested in…

    Some of the new features available in Moodle 2 include:

    • selective release (release activities and resources by date or upon completing other activities)
    • improved Messages area:
      • every message will send an email (by default)
      • easily search for old messages
      • choose when you want to be notified about your own quiz submissions,
    • improved quiz interface
      • flag questions to return to later
      • preview responses before submitting
    • new tabbed course format
    • improved editing
      • drag and drop resources
      • click and point to move blocks

    If you want to know more about these features come along to a Moving to Moodle 2 training course.

    Authoring quiz questions with Uniqurate

    By Jessica Gramp, on 9 July 2012

    Uniqurate is an easy to use QTI quiz question authoring tool that is currently being developed as part of a JISC funded project. IMS QTI is the Quiz and Test Interoperability standard, an XML based format that allows assessments to be shared between different e-assessment platforms.

    The Uniqurate editor comes with a  “friendly” mode and advanced modes (intermediate and expert). The “friendly” drag and drop mode is shown below.


    Some features include

    • compatible with popular Virtual Learning Environments (including Moodle via the Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) plugin)
    • randomisation of questions and answers
    • multiple-part questions
    • regular expressions
    • compatible with Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox and Chrome
    • compatible with iPads, iPhones and Androids (without drag-and-drop functionality)
    • requires you to enter feedback for every answer (both correct answers and distractors)

    Uniqurate is being used by the following universities:

    • Harper Adams University College
    • Strathclyde University
    • Kingston University

    You can try Uniqurate for yourself here:

    The project team are looking for people to offer suggestions for new features and improvements. If you are interested in contributing to the project please contact the Learning Technology Research Group at Kingston University.

    Other QTI tools are available from here: