Online Assessment: Informing Practice in Tertiary Science Education

Online Assessment: Informing Practice in Tertiary Science Education

David Walker (University of Dundee, Scotland)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-690-2.ch012
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This chapter reports the findings of a study which investigated the learning processes, expectations and perceptions underpinning undergraduate science student’s use of online assessment. The aims of the study were to: review the way students interact with online assessments within the context of their studies; examine how this interaction was shaped by their preparation and prior experience with online tools; explore the prominence of test anxiety and the extent to which the student’s anxieties influenced their interaction with the technology and the learning approach employed; and analyse the student’s perspectives on the use of online assessment in higher education and, in particular, in their disciplinespecific courses.
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Students drawn from four course modules in Biology, Chemistry, Medicine and Nursing at the University of Dundee formed the cases within the sample. A mixed-methods research design drew on both quantitative and qualitative techniques to facilitate in-depth exploration of student experiences of online assessment. The research design was influenced to an extent by methodological approaches use by others (see for example, Creanor et al. 2006; Cassady and Johnson, 2002) to support an interpretative phenomenological analysis approach. Methods involved the collection of objective and quantifiable data through screen capture of student completion of a formative online assessment task, and interpretative analysis of interview data to gain an insight into the students’ experiences of these tasks. The interpretative results were subjectively negotiated and emerged through a process of interpretation which sought to establish the meaning that specific experiences or events held for individuals within the sample (Smith & Osborn, 2003). In order to cast some light on the impact of online assessment on student levels of cognitive test anxiety, a modified version of the Cognitive Test Anxiety Scale created by Cassady and Johnson (2002) was utilised with the limited alterations allowing comparison of results with previous findings. Importantly, the instruments selected and the approaches adopted have been adapted to provide as rich an insight as possible into the intentions behind student actions during online assessment events and the impact of online assessment on their learning.


Four science-based modules made up the sample:

  • two first year modules in biology and chemistry from the School of Life Sciences

  • one first year module from the School of Medicine

  • one second year module from the School of Nursing and Midwifery

Table 1 below presents an indication of the students who participated in the study. The gender imbalance within the sample is to an extent representative of the gender balance of the students enrolled on the modules with females making up approximately 60% of the students studying on the Medicine, Biology and Chemistry modules rising to 86% in the Nursing module.

Table 1.
Participant breakdown (n=15)
ModuleNumber of StudentsNumber MaleNumber Female

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