Assuring quality evaluation practices in open and distance learning system: The case of National Open University of Nigeria

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Harvard Library]On: 04 October 2014, At: 06:31Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Africa Education ReviewPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/raer20

    Assuring quality evaluation practicesin open and distance learning system:The case of National Open University ofNigeriaD. Ofoha aa School of Education , National Open University of NigeriaPublished online: 19 Oct 2012.

    To cite this article: D. Ofoha (2012) Assuring quality evaluation practices in open and distancelearning system: The case of National Open University of Nigeria, Africa Education Review, 9:2,230-248, DOI: 10.1080/18146627.2012.721240

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/18146627.2012.721240

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    ISSN1814-6627 (print) 1753-5921 (online)DOI: 10.1080/18146627.2012.721240University of South Africa Press

    Africa Education Review 9 (2)

    pp. 230 248

    Assuring quality evaluation practices in open and distance learning system: The case of National Open University of Nigeria

    D. Ofoha School of Education, National Open University of Nigeria, dorisofoha@yahoo.com

    AbstractThe success of any open and distance learning (ODL) programme depends on how well it is evaluated. In the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), students are assessed and evaluated through continuous assessment as well as end of semester examinations. This paper focuses on Tutor Marked Assignment (TMA), which forms part of continuous assessment process. TMA plays an important role in providing useful feedback to learners. Students are required to work alone on their TMA and the marked TMA scripts returned to students with tutors comments serving as a means for feedback. Research evidence indicates that timely/continuous feedback is essential to facilitate learning. In this context and considering the nature of distance learners believed to be physically, temporally and spatially separated from their tutors, this paper seeks to assess how TMA is implemented in NOUN with a view to determining the extent to which the intended purpose is achieved. 320 students, 60 tutorial facilitators, and 180 copies of TMA marked scripts formed the sample for this study. Adopting the descrip-tive survey design with both qualitative and quantitative approaches in data collection and analysis, the study addressed the following fundamental questions: What type of tutor comment is written on TMA marked scripts? What is the time interval between students submission of TMA response and receipt of the marked scripts? What is the level of TMA cheating among students? To what extent does TMA contribute to students learning? Findings revealed a wide gap between the intended purpose of TMA and the reality on ground. Suggestions are made on measures to be taken to minimize the gap.

    Keywords: quality evaluation practices, tutor marked assignments, ODL

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    Assuring quality evaluation practices in open and distance learning system

    Introduction

    One of the innovations that has taken place in the field of higher education in Africa is the emergence of open and distance education. According to UNESCO (2002), open and distance learning is one of the most rapidly growing fields of education and its potential impact on all education delivery systems has been greatly accentuated through the development of internet based information technologies. In most African countries and Nigeria particularly, there is a high demand for higher education as majority of youth that are qualified for admission to conventional system could not do so because of lack of space. It is also obvious that due to limitations in both human and material resources, conventional institutions can no longer satisfy the snowballing population of a country like Nigeria, which has an estimated population of 140 million people and an average annual population growth rate of 2.38% (World Fact Book 2006). Consequently, the emergence of open and distance learning has marked a turning point in the provision of educational opportunities for millions of people that have been left out of the conventional system. Therefore, with the increasing acceptance of ODL as a major channel of widening access to higher education it has become increasingly necessary that quality assurance be developed and maintained in all aspects of academic activities particularly in evaluation processes if ODL provision is to be relevant and recognized as complimentary to conventional higher education.

    The success of any open and distance learning (ODL) programme depends not only on how well it is designed or executed but also how well it is evaluated. Learner evaluation and assessment is one of the key aspects in distance education. Evaluation provides information not only about the performance and progress of the student, but also about the effectiveness of the educational programmes. This is why course evaluation constitutes an important function in an open and distance learning system. Distance learning is a structured learning in which the instructor and students are separated by time and space, and which uses the latest technology to bridge the gap between learners and instructors (Jegede 2003). It is widely accepted that ODL involves self-study hence a lot of emphasis is placed on self-study assessment exercises as learning tools. Assessment of learning outcomes is an integral part of the education process which is designed to guide both instructors and students by providing insight on student learning and the effectiveness of institutional activities (Mandernach 2003). Student assessment is especially important for ODL practitioners and faculty members to obtain information about how and what students are learning

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    D. Ofoha

    in order to improve their ODL efforts and to demonstrate the degree to which students have accomplished the learning goals.

    In the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) as in other ODL higher institutions, students are assessed and evaluated in all courses for which they are registered through continuous assessment as well as end-of-semester examinations. The focus of this paper centres on Tutor Marked Assignment (TMA), which forms part of the continuous assessment process. TMA has a special function in ODL system. In conventional face-to-face mode, the teacher can provide feedback on assignments and report common problems to the class, and students can learn from discussing the feedback with the teacher and each other. In ODL, however, it is conceivable that TMA remains the only means of teacher-student interaction. Therefore, the processes must evolve systems for ensuring quality particularly with respect to the marking process including writing of feedback comments. Educationists have long accepted that timely and effective feedback on assessment is essential for learning (Weaver, 2006).

    A major characteristic of the 21st century knowledge economy has been an increasing demand for global standards and quality assurance. ODL higher institutions in response to this demand have developed regulations for assuring quality in all aspects of academic activities including evaluation and assessment processes. But whether such policy formulation is implemented is another ball game altogether. For instance, in NOUN TMA comprise essay type questions. Students are given four compulsory questions on each course they registered for and given stipulated time within which to submit the answer scripts. Ideally, students are required to work alone on their TMA and upon completion submit their scripts for evaluation. The TMA scripts are marked by tutorial facilitators who are engaged on part-time basis by the university, according to the specification of marking guide and within a stipulated period. The facilitators are expected not only to evaluate the students work but also provide sufficient feedback by writing comments on the TMA scripts, which will help the students improve on their studies. After marking, students would have their marked scripts returned to them. According to NOUN regulation, the turn-around time for providing feedback on performance to the learners is four weeks after submission and should not exceed two weeks before the end-of-semester examination commences.

    The above scenario paints an ideal picture of the intended purpose of TMA. What is the reality on ground? It is this concern that prompted this study.

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    Assuring quality evaluation practices in open and distance learning system

    Definition of terms

    The following terms have been operationally defined for consistent reference and understanding.

    Plagiarism or cheating These two terms are used interchangeably throughout the study and taken to mean submission of TMA assignment that has been copied from other students work word-for-word (either completely or partly) and representing such work as ones own.

    Learning Knowledge, skills, and attitudes acquired from study of the course material while going through a course programme.

    Tutor Marked Assignments (TMA) These are set of tasks that learner needs to do at periodic interval as planned by the educational institution while going through a course of study (Koul, 2005).

    Intended purpose of TMA This refers to stated policy goals in terms of tutor comments, turn-around time and nature of TMA responses.

    TMA implementation The way and manner in which TMA policy is put into effect. For the purpose of this study, aspects of implementation considered include tutor comments, turn-around time, and nature of TMA response.

    Objectives of the study

    The main aim of this study was to assess how TMA is implemented in the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) with a view to determining the extent to which the intended purpose is achieved. Specifically, the objectives were to:

    1. Examine the type of tutor comments written on TMA marked scripts

    2. Determine the time interval between students submission of TMA response and receipt of marked scripts

    3. Find out level of TMA cheating among students

    4. Find out if TMA contributes to students learning

    Research questions

    1. The following research questions are raised:

    2. What type of tutor comment is written on TMA marked scripts?

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    3. What is the time interval between students submission of TMA response and receipt of marked scripts?

    4. What is the level of TMA cheating among students?

    5. To what extent does TMA contribute to students learning?

    Statement of the problem

    There is no gainsaying the fact that evaluation and assessment remain at the core of ODL programme. In most ODL institutions such as NOUN the following modes of assessment are usually used:

    Self-assessment exercises within each study unit of the course material

    Tutor Marked Assignments (TMAs)

    End of semester face to face examination

    Hands on practical, teaching practice, Industrial attachment and project work.

    Of these assessment modes, the one that appears prone to possible abuse and cheating is the TMA. This is because distance learners are believed to be physically, temporally and spatially separated from their instructors, and as such there is tendency to indulge in cheating. A number of studies indicate that there is a rising trend in the incidence of detected plagiarism on TMA assignments (Park, 2003; Marsden et al., 2005; Jones, 2006). Bowers study (cited in Marsden et al., 2005) reports 82% of students admitting to some form of cheating on written assignments. This indeed is a big challenge in ODL system. If indeed TMA serves as learning tool, it implies that students who indulge in cheating will be awarded qualifications that they have not earned.

    Another major source of worry is the issue of quality of the marking process. This deserves serious attention because NOUN, for instance, draws its support staff (tutors) from the overloaded academics from conventional tertiary institutions in Nigeria. These academics have to contend with the additional workload and may likely compromise quality of the evaluation process.

    It is obvious that the aforementioned challenges are capable of distorting the intended purpose of TMA. However, an investigation on evaluation practices and TMA in particular is an area which has received relatively little or no

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    attention in the National Open University of Nigeria. This study is therefore a contribution to fill the existing knowledge gap.

    Theoretical and conceptual framework

    The theoretical framework of this paper was based on the constructivist theory. One feature of the constructivist paradigm explains that individuals construct their own meaning and knowledge by actively engaging in the learning process. This is further supported by Vygotsky (1978), who claims that individuals knowledge construction can be further expanded and improved under the guidance of capable adults or peers. In universi...

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