Last Friday I went to a meeting called Beyond mathcentre: electronic resources for maths assessment and support at the University of South Wales in Cardiff. This is part of the Sigma network, which is a network of lectures in Mathematics based in the South West of England.
The first talk was by Embedding computer-aided assessment and other electronic resources in the curriculum, Martin Greenhow from Brunel University. He had his own computer aided assessment system. It didn't use a computer algebra system as a back end, so he was using multiple choice questions. He thought that the multiple choice questions was good for the students. It was better motivation, if a student gets 2/10 on a multiple choice than getting 0/10 on a mathematical quiz.
He spent a lot of time making the mathematical problems relevant. For example his system was used for teaching nurses how to measure out the correct amount of medicine. He had learned about the correct doses of various pills. This report gives information about errors about medication. It claims that 7000 deaths occur annually, because of medication problems. Some of these problems are not due to arithmetic issues, but miss-identification of the doctors written notes.
Martin was a big believer in using SVG (scalable vector graphics) for figures, because the students could easily resize them. This is useful for students who have vision or reading problems. Like everyone else he was using, or planning to use, mathjax for displaying mathematics.
He found that the students really liked the detailed feedback he provided. He also tried to find the common errors that the students made and then he would provide detailed feedback to help them. He used the phrase mal-rules for mathematical mistakes the students were making. See this paper from a cognitive perspective.
He talked to me about the entropy of questions. Also he mentioned the idea of question-space from Chris Sangwin
to try to quantify the number of mistakes the students could make.
Martin also used project students to help author questions and the feedback. Writing such detailed questions is a lot of work.
He also seemed to claim that if a woman's name was used in a word question, then more female students would get the correct answer. So he designed the questions to take into account diversity.
He liked the idea of computer aided assessment and exams. The students relaxed when they saw the exam questions, because they had been trained on the algebra system. If they had done no work, or cheated on the assessment systems, then they got a low mark on the exam.
So what did I learn from it. Now that I see what people are doing, they are clearly in the lead in providing detailed feedback to students. The students like the feedback, when it is tailored to their
mistakes. I will have to look again at the feedback possibilities in the commercial computer algebra system I use (MapleTA).