The challenge of coordinating computer-based teaching with more conventional assessment has arisen in my teaching of Engineering Statistics for third year students at the University of Western Australia. The need for using computers for engineering and science education is usually unquestioned. One of the advantages which attracts me most is that computers allow to solve real size problems in front of students in a lecture theatre. Modern universities usually provide resources for computer-based teaching and learning. Lecturers have easy access to portable computers and projectors. Students have easy access to personal computers and common software. However, at present it seems to be beyond the financial capacity of most universities to conduct computer-based examinations for large groups of students. This would require having at least a hundred of fully serviced personal computers with engineering and scientific software. Therefore, at present, lecturers are faced with a difficult task of assessing computer-based taught students using pen-and-pencil exams.
Graduates with professional degrees must possess certain, specified competencies. Lecturers' duty is not only to provide the students with opportunities to achieve these competencies but also to make sure that these skills have been actually acquired - and here comes the need for appropriate assessment techniques. In engineering many lecturers believe that only rigorous examinations can assure that the graduates acquired necessary proficiencies.
This paper poses an unanswered question - how to combine computer-based teaching with paper-and-pencil examinations - with hope that during the dilemma session the indication of the answer will emerge.
In 1997 I was faced with a challenge of developing a teaching strategy for Engineering Statistics for third year students. Introductory Statistics is a very inviting subject to be taught with the help of computers. The underlying concepts are simple - they can be readily explained in a lecture theatre. Meaningful examples are usually large problems - but easily tractable in a lecture theatre with a help of a computer. The best examples of usefulness of computers can be found in teaching descriptive statistics. Let's consider lecturing about empirical probability density function (histogram). This function is usually used to make some sense from large collection of data. But how to show a meaningful example of a large data set without a computer? Consider, for example, lifetimes in hours of two hundred incandescent lamps (Ross, 1987). Such problem size is far beyond the reach of traditional lecturing style. A computer with appropriate software allows going through each step of construction of empirical probability density function, followed by appropriate visualisation, in about eleven minutes, including explanation.
Not many universities could afford to maintain an examination venue equipped with a hundred, fully operational and serviced, up to date personal computers with typical engineering and scientific software installed. Currently it is not possible in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering of the University of Western Australia. However, we provide about fifty modern PC Pentium computers for our undergraduate students. Therefore computer-based teaching and learning is perfectly possible.
Wolfram, S. (1997). Mathematica Book, 3rd ed., Wolfram Media, Cambridge University Press, USA.
|Please cite as: Miller, K. (1998). Computer-based teaching but pen-and-pencil examination? In Black, B. and Stanley, N. (Eds), Teaching and Learning in Changing Times, 223-224. Proceedings of the 7th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1998. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1998/miller.html|