South African Journal of Higher Education

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The potential impact of computer-aided assessment technology in higher education

AE Tshibalo


Distance learning generally separates students from educators, and demands that interventions be put in place to counter the constraints that this distance poses to learners and educators.
Further more ‘Increased number of students in Higher Education and the corresponding
increase in time spent by staff on assessment has encouraged interest into how technology
can assist in this area' (Mogey and Watt 1999, 1). As student assessment is an
important challenge faced by Higher Education institutions, this paper investigates the
role that Computer Aided Assessment (CAA) can play for both face-to-face and distance
learning institutions. The discussions include the definition of CAA, its rationale, potential
benefits, limitations, impacts on student learning and strategies for developing effective
computer-based or online assessment. Research has indicated that when students are
actively engaged by giving them more tests, assignments or examinations, the pass rate
increases. CAA is one of the methods that can be used to engage students actively in
their learning. It allows marking; immediate feedback, the recording of student scores
and the analysis of student performance to be processed by computer and thus alleviate
the burden on educators. Computer Aided Assessment is described as any instance in
which some aspect of computer technology is deployed as part of the assessment process
(Atkinson and Davies 2000). These may include:
• Interactive exercises and tests completed on a computer
• Onscreen marking of students\' word-processed writing
• Use of revision software
• Using of spreadsheet or database to keep a record of student marks
• Use of e-mail to send coursework and to receive marks and feedback etc.
There are many benefits linked to CAA, some of which are objectivity and consistency
of standards; automatic, immediate, and detailed feedback to all students; time saved
when marking and allocating marks (Billings, 2004; McKenna and Bull 2000; Musham 2004). Limitations linked to CAA include the possibility that CAA may not be suitable
for assessing skills such as constructive argument, writing, presentation and interpersonal
skills. Computers and software sometimes crash and boot students offline during testing,
and cheating sometimes occurs (Musham 2004; Greenburg 1998). The above-mentioned
issues are discussed with the aim of encouraging higher education institutions to consider
the potential benefits of introducing CAA

South African Journal of Higher Education Vol. 21 (6) 2008: pp. 684-693

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