Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Enhancing Students' Engagement in Learning through a Formative E-Assessment Tool That Motivates Students to Take Action on Feedback

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Enhancing Students' Engagement in Learning through a Formative E-Assessment Tool That Motivates Students to Take Action on Feedback

Article excerpt


Students learn best when they are motivated to engage in learning activities, as Biggs & Tang (2007, p. 15) pointed out: how effectively we teach depends on how we encourage students to use the learning activities to achieve the intended learning outcomes. As a central element in teaching and learning, assessment plays an important role in measuring achievement of intended learning outcomes and in providing opportunities for students to self-monitor their learning progress. From one perspective, students benefit from timely and supportive feedback that enables them to evaluate the quality of their own work; from another perspective, it requires students' engagement and substantial involvement in learning. Jollands et al (2009) studied students' learning behaviour and found that students did not pay attention to feedback if they were not required to repeat the task and to correct errors they made. When feedback is received, it may be too late for them to take action on the feedback and to make a substantial difference to their learning (Crisp, 2007). One of the solutions to these problems is providing computer assisted assessment (e-assessment) (Crisp, 2009).

The use of e-assessment in higher education has been increasing in recent years (Stodberg, 2011). This increase was partly driven by the rapid development in information technology and the changing expectations of students about their learning environment (Bennett, 2002; Crisp, 2009, p. 55). While e-assessment has brought benefits to educators and learners in reducing academics' marking load and providing instant feedback to students (Stowell & Lamshed, 2011), the impact of e-assessment on enhancing students' engagement in learning has not been fully investigated (Nicol, 2010; Vardi, 2012).

This article investigates the impact of a formative e-assessment tool, eTutor, on students' learning behaviour. The program was implemented in a number of civil engineering units, including Engineering Statics, Concrete Structures, and Steel and Timber Structures, for formative assessment purposes at the School of Engineering, University of Tasmania (UTAS), Australia. Qualitative and quantitative data were collected from students' evaluation of the program.


2.1 The role of formative assessment in teaching and learning

Unlike summative assessment that judges the quality of students' learning, formative assessment, which is carried out during the learning process, intends to provide students with feedback to enable them to improve achievement on current or subsequent tasks (UTAS, 2011; Shute, 2008). When describing the distinction between formative and summative assessment, Stake (1998) stated that: "when the cook tastes the soup, that's formative; when the guests taste the soup, that's summative". While this simile reflected the timing difference between formative and summative assessment, it did not address students' involvement in the formative assessment process. Although the teacher receives information and uses it as the basis for altering courses, students, as the "guests", are also involved in the formative assessment process. Literature suggests that formative assessment should provide qualitative feedback (rather than scores) (Huhta, 2010; Rust et al, 2003), however it was found that students would not do activities unless they were worth marks (Parsons, 2007). Assessment should be designed to drive student learning and to provide the motivation for learning through the awarding of marks (Nicol, 2010), although not all students are only driven by external rewards and the evidence is mounting in flipped classrooms that not everything has to be marked or should be marked.

2.2 Providing effective feedback

One of the criteria to judging the quality of teaching in higher education is to measure if students are given helpful feedback on their learning progress and on assessed work by educators. …

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