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

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    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

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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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    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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    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 universities, lecturers, or tutors assume the role of providing guidance to students through the means of feedback in formative assessments. In distance learning, TMA remains the only means of teacher-student interaction. Therefore, the marking process including the feedback comments should adhere to laid down principles in order to allow learners construct their own knowledge and enhance learning process. The constructivist perspective was advanced by theorists such as Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. Although their works vary greatly, each articulates a similar context of learning and development.

    The conceptual framework was derived from the constructivist perspective and focuses on the importance of feedback (tutor comments) as effective teaching-learning tool in ODL system. It depicts the interaction between the roles of tutorial facilitators who influence learning process through the means of feedback, the learner who constructs knowledge based on the feedback received, and which ultimately leads to greater learning achievement. The conceptual mapping of this interaction is represented in Figure 1:

    INDEPENDENT VARIABLE DEPENDENT VARIABLE

    Input Intervening variable Output

    Learning environment

    (facilitators, TMA regular feedback)

    Learner construction of

    knowledge based on feedback in

    TMA assignments

    Improved learning achievement

    Figure 1: Conceptual framework

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    Methodology

    Research designThe study adopted a descriptive survey research design. This design was deemed appropriate as it involved the collection of extensive and cross-sectional data for the purpose of describing and interpreting the existing situation in TMA practices in the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN).

    Population and sample The target population included all students in the NOUN as well as tutorial facilitators. The University operates through various study centers (now 43) that are located across the six geopolitical zones in the country. The stratified random sampling would have been used in order to have a good representation of the geographical spread. However, Lagos Study Centre was purposely selected because of its peculiar characteristics coupled with the fact that the study center caters for about 50% of the universitys student population. Subjects for the study comprised students and facilitators. Student-sample consisted of 320 randomly selected from various undergraduate programmes drawn across the six academic Schools (first year students were excluded). They comprised 168 (56%) males and 132 (44%) females, with age ranging from 23 to 65 years. Facilitator-sample comprised 60 subjects drawn from variety of disciplines. Their composition was 33 (55%) males and 27 (45%) females, with age ranging from 35 to 57 years.

    Instrumentation and procedure

    This study utilized both quantitative and qualitative techniques with questionnaire and observation guide as instruments used in data collection. Two sets of questionnaire were developed, each for student- and facilitator- respondents, namely, Student Questionnaire on TMA (SQTMA) and Facilitator Questionnaire on TMA (FQTMA), respectively. The SQTMA was a structured questionnaire designed to elicit information from respondents on the subject of enquiry. It had two sections: section A sought necessary background information. Section B contained 19 items divided into three sub-sections, thus; items 1-5 generated data on TMA turn-around time, items 6-12 on level of TMA cheating, items 13-19 on perceived contribution of TMA to students learning. The FQTMA, apart from section A on biodata, contained 7 items which elicited information from facilitators on level of TMA cheating among students. The items were purposely designed to triangulate some of the responses from

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    SQTMA particularly items 6-12. Each item in both instruments was assigned a 4-point Likert-type response scale of: strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree. The psychometric properties were established: the face and content validity were assessed by colleagues while the reliability was obtained in a test-retest procedure with one-week interval between the first and second administration. The correlation coefficient values of 0.92 and 0.85 were obtained for SQTMA and FQTMA respectively, which were considered good for the study.

    The instruments were personally administered face-to-face to respondents during tutorial sessions with the help of three trained research assistants. Out of 320 questionnaires that were administered to student-respondents, 300 copies were returned duly completed. All 60 copies from facilitator-respondents were returned duly completed.

    In addition to the quantitative instruments, the personal observation of the investigator was included as additional input. Thus, from the Universitys archives, 180 sample copies of TMA marked scripts from different courses across all six Schools were randomly selected for observation to ascertain the presence/absence of written comments, as well as type and tone of the comments.

    Method of data analysis

    Basic descriptive statistics including frequency distribution and percentages were used to analyze the quantitative data, while content analysis was used for qualitative data.

    Findings

    The results obtained from the analysis of data collected in the course of this study are presented using the research questions as guideline.

    Research question 1: What type of tutor comment is written on TMA marked scripts?

    To answer this question, observation data collected from sample copies of TMA marked scripts were content analyzed. Findings revealed that all the sampled scripts were given numerical grades. However, a significant proportion had no written comments. For scripts that had comments, the analysis showed that most of the comments were sketchy with the following remarks very good good fair very poor try harder you can do better. It was also observed

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    that some of the scripts had non-verbal comments expressed through signs ? //. While some others had full-sentence comments some of which are reproduced in the box below:

    1. This is not how to answer question

    2. Not a good attempt, please study your course material before you respond

    3. You call yourself an undergraduate yet you cant construct simple sentence

    4. This is good work but please itemize your points in logical order

    5. You need to improve on your writing skills

    6. I doubt if you actually studied your course material as you seem to write off point

    7. Mind your tenses

    8. This is not good enough add some more points

    9. Your writing is below standard try to improve

    10. This is lazy work I guess you hurriedly went through the questions

    Inspection of the above comments shows they are mainly judgmental. They are comments telling what is wrong and not explanatory of causes of mistakes and what the learner could do to make improvement. Using Kouls (2005) categorization, a closer inspection shows the comments fall into the following categories harmful comments (Nos. 3 and 10), null comments (? //), negative comments (Nos. 1, 2, 6, 8), global comments (Nos. 5, 7 and 9). The only comment with a semblance of positive/ constructive tone is No. 4. From the analysis it is evident that negative comments ranked highest in the type of comments written on TMA scripts followed by global then harmful comments. That of positive/constructive comments ranked the least.

    Research question 2: What is the time interval between students submission of TMA response and receipt of marked scripts?

    Data for the question were gathered from SQTMA and the responses were analyzed with the use of frequency distribution and percentages and presented in Table 1.

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    Table 1: Frequency and percentage distribution of students responses on TMA turn-around time (N=300)

    S/N Variables/Items SA A D SDF % F % F % F %

    TMA Turn-around time

    1 TMA marked scripts are returned to students within 1 - 3 months after submission

    02 0.7 06 2 155 52 137 46

    2 TMA marked scripts are returned to students within 3 - 6 months after submission

    18 6 16 5.3 108 36 158 52.7

    3 TMA marked scripts are returned to students within 6 months - 1 year after submission

    31 10.3 59 19.7 76 25.3 134 44.7

    4 TMA marked scripts are returned to students after end-of-session exam

    64 21.3 53 17.7 105 35 78 26

    5 TMA marked scripts are not Returned to students at all

    147 49 70 23.3 60 20 23 7.7

    Key: SA Strongly Agree, A Agree, D Disagree, SD Strongly Disagree

    Data from Table 1 reveal that out of 300 respondents, nearly all 292 (98%) were in agreement that TMA marked scripts were not returned to students within 1-3 months after submission, while a negligible number 8 (2.7%) held a contrary view. A high percentage (88.7%) reported non return of marked scripts within 3-6 months after submission, while 11.3% held a contrary view.

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    Majority (70%) reported non return within 6 months to 1 year after submission as against 30% who indicated otherwise. (61%) disagreed that marked scripts were returned after end-of-e-session examination as against 39% who reported in the affirmative. A significant proportion (72.3%) indicated that marked scripts were not returned at all as against 27.7% who disagreed. From the result of Table 2 it appears the time interval between TMA submission and receipt of marked scripts is infinite.

    Research question 3: What is the level of TMA cheating among students?

    Data for the question were gathered from SQTMA and FQTMA and the responses were analyzed with the use of frequency distribution and percentages and presented in Tables 2a and 2b, respectively.

    Table 2a: Frequency and percentage distribution of students responses on level of TMA cheating among students (N=300)

    S/N Variables/Items SA A D SDF % F % F % F %

    Level of TMA cheating among students

    6 Many NOUN students submit TMA work jointly written with others

    81 27 103 34.3 92 30.7 24 8

    7 I know students who submit TMA work partly copied word for word from other students

    67 22.3 81 27 58 19.3 94 31.3

    8 Some of my course mates submit TMA work completely copied word for word from TMA done by other students

    84 28 42 14 129 43 45 15

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    S/N Variables/Items SA A D SDF % F % F % F %

    9 I know students who hire fellow students to write their TMA for them

    71 23.7 133 44.3 56 18.7 40 13.3

    10 The level at which TMA work is copied among students is high

    120 40 105 35 60 20 15 5

    11 The level at which TMA work is copied among students is low

    44 14.7 53 17.7 132 44 71 23.6

    12 There is no incidence of TMA copying among NOUN students

    16 5.3 21 7 127 42.3 136 45.3

    Key: SA Strongly Agree, A Agree, D Disagree, SD Strongly Disagree

    As seen in Table 2a, several respondents (61.3%) consented that many NOUN students submit TMAs that were jointly written with peers while 38.7% held a contrary view. The percentage of respondents (49.3%) who reported knowing students who submitted TMA work partly copied word-for-word was slightly less than those who reported otherwise (50.6%). Also, many respondents (42%) reported that they know students who submitted TMA work completely copied word-for-word from TMA done by other students. A significant proportion (68%) consented to knowing students who hire fellow students to write their TMA for them as against 32% who expressed a different opinion. A higher percentage (75%) agreed that the level of TMA copying among students was high while 32.4% rated low. Few respondents 37 (12.3%) expressed no incidence of TMA copying among students as against a much greater percentage (87.6%) who indicated otherwise. From the result it appears there is high level of TMA cheating among NOUN students.

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    Table 2b: Frequency and percentage distribution of facilitators responses on level of TMA cheating among students (N=60)

    S/N Variables/Items SA A D SDF % F % F % F %

    Level of TMA cheating among students

    1 Many NOUN students submit TMA work jointly written word for word with others

    27 45 24 40 05 8.3 04 6.7

    2 Many students submit TMA work partly copied word for word from TMA done by fellow students

    29 48.3 23 38.3 06 10 02 3.3

    3 Many students submit TMA work completely copied word for word from the TMA done by other students

    20 33.3 07 11.7 21 35 12 20

    4 The level at which TMA work is copied among students is high

    37 61.7 18 30 0 0 05 8.3

    5 The level at which TMA work is copied among students is low

    05 8.3 03 5 13 21.7 39 65

    6 There is no incidence of TMA copying among NOUN students

    0 0 03 5 24 40 33 55

    Key: SA Strongly Agree, A Agree, D Disagree, SD Strongly Disagree

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    Data obtained from Table 2b reveals that majority of facilitators (85%) agreed that TMA work were jointly written word-for-word while 15% held a contrary view. Several respondents (86.6%) believed students copied one another as against 13.3% who had a different opinion. On whether students submit TMA work completely copied from fellow students, the number that consented 27 (45%) was slightly less than those that disagreed 33 (55%). With reference to item 4, almost all respondents (91.7%) agreed that level of TMA cheating was high while very few (8.3%) expressed divergent opinion. A similar result is reflected in item 6 where almost all respondents (95%) agreed there is incidence of TMA copying among students, while those who did not share this opinion constituted just 5%. Overall, the result appears to suggest high level of TMA cheating among students. The result confirms that obtained from Table 2a, which also points to the same direction.

    Research question 4: To what extent does TMA contribute to students learning?

    Data for the question were gathered from SQTMA and the responses were analyzed with the use of frequency distribution and percentages and presented in Table 3.

    Table 3: Frequency and percentage distribution of students responses on extent of TMA contribution to students learning (N=300)

    S/N Variables/Items SA A D SDF % F % F % F %

    Extent of TMA contribution to students learning

    13 TMA facilitates understanding of my course materials

    150 50 138 46 02 0.7 10 3.3

    14 TMA is useful and should be encouraged

    150 50 139 46.3 07 2.3 04 1.3

    15 TMA is helpful in preparing for end-of-session exam

    94 31.3 101 33.7 62 20.7 43 14.3

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    S/N Variables/Items SA A D SDF % F % F % F %

    16 I rely on TMA to improve myself on course of study

    48 16 89 29.7 105 35 58 19.3

    17 I can do without TMA and still pass my courses

    31 10.3 97 32.3 100 33.3 72 24

    18 TMA is a big support in distance Learning

    127 42.3 139 46.3 21 7 13 4.3

    19 TMA is a waste of time in distance learning

    06 2 15 5 131 43.7 148 49.3

    Key: SA Strongly Agree, A Agree, D Disagree, SD Strongly Disagree

    As indicated in Table 3, a sizable number of respondents (96%) affirmed the relevance of TMA in facilitating understanding of course materials, while insignificant percentage (4%) had a different opinion. On the usefulness of TMA, several respondents (96.3%) expressed affirmative opinion as against a small number (3.6%) who held contrary view. On whether TMA has been helpful for students in preparation of end-of-session examination, there were more respondents that disagreed (54.3%) than those that agreed (45.7%). On item 17 which enquired whether students could do without TMA and still pass their courses, 42.6% were in agreement while relatively higher percentage (57. 7%) held a contrary view. On whether TMA was a big support in distance learning, a large percentage (88.6%) reported in the affirmative while very few (11.3%) expressed a contrary opinion. Item 19 which asked whether TMA was a waste of time in distance learning had a negligible percentage (7%) of respondents consenting while substantial percentage (93%) disagreed. From Table 3, one can deduce that to a large extent TMA is found relevant, useful and contributes to students learning.

    Discussion

    This study was designed to assess TMA implementation at the National Open University of Nigeria with a view to determine the extent to which the intended

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    Assuring quality evaluation practices in open and distance learning system

    purpose of TMA is achieved. 320 students, 60 tutorial facilitators, and 180 copies of TMA marked scripts formed the sample for the study.

    Based on the observation, it was found that although all sampled TMA scripts had grade marks, however, not too many scripts had written comments. By this, the whole essence of TMA is defeated as the learning support which comments is meant to provide is lost. Limited contact opportunities with tutors necessitate the need for feedback on students TMA. Feedback comments are intended to assist the students learning and provide a basis for dialogue between the tutor and the students. There may be reasons for the low response in writing tutor comments: it is either the facilitators were not aware of the need for comments or they lack thorough understanding of how to write constructive comments to promote effective two-way communication between tutor and the learner or that they were overwhelmed by workload. Either situation does not reflect well on the use of TMA to serve the intended purpose. Analysis of type of comments written on the marked scripts revealed that they were sketchy, judgmental and contained mostly non-tutoring comments which serve no pedagogical purpose.

    As the result of the study in Table 1 indicates, for majority of respondents the time interval between TMA submission and receipt of marked scripts was infinite as scripts were returned after end-of-session examination, when it no longer serves any purpose, or not returned at all as majority reported. In such scenario, TMA lose their utility as teaching tools and are reduced to mere summative evaluation device. Research evidence has shown that the turn around time of evaluated assignment is very crucial for distance learners. Giving TMA marked scripts back to the students within stipulated time and providing feedback information help learners to correct their mistakes, encourage, modulate, improve and perfect their enthusiasm and mechanism of self-study (Koul, 2005). From this study it is evident that TMA was not effectively implemented to serve the intended purpose. Non-return of TMA scripts seems to violate institutional policy and fundamental principles of open and distance learning.

    Again, the result of the study as indicated in Tables 2a and 2b reveals high level of TMA cheating among students. Both student- and facilitator -respondents seem to agree on the following acts of TMA cheating among students: copy word-for-word, partly and completely, hire fellow students (who are presumably intellectually advantaged) to write assignments and representing such assignments as ones own. If indeed TMA serves as learning tool, it implies that students who engaged in acts of cheating will be awarded qualifications that they have not earned. This indeed is a big challenge in ODL system. Cheating

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    undermines the use of assessment data as indicator of student learning. For instance, students who copy TMA work assignments instead of doing them themselves will not learn what they should. Passow et al. (2006) argue that acts of academic dishonesty undermine the validity of measures of student learning. TMA cheating seems to violate institutional policy and established rules governing administration of TMA as well as fundamental principles of distance education.

    The result of the study indicated in Table 3 shows that TMA was found useful, helpful and contributes to students learning. Respondents merely stated the obvious as it is a known fact that TMA serves as effective tool in the teaching-learning process. Given the high regard students have about TMA, there is the need to checkmate and tighten all loopholes that create cheating opportunity thereby strengthening the TMA system for greater effectiveness. The finding of the present study is in consonance with that of Koul (2005) which found that the assignments helped the learners to understand course content and provided opportunity to discuss and participate in counseling sessions. According to Koul (2005), TMAs are designed to provide learning support to learners, help them to maximize their potential, assess their progress, evaluate their performance and enable them to apply the knowledge and skills acquired from the course material.

    Suggestions for improvement/Recommendations

    In open and distance learning, the critical nature of TMA as a method of assessment cannot be overemphasized. However, it is obvious that this method of assessment has some drawbacks arising from the way it is implemented. In order to address the shortcomings, the following suggestions are made:

    Most of the tutors in ODL came from a conventional institutional background. It is pertinent for them therefore to be well acquainted with assessment procedure in ODL system of education. Hence, there is need for thorough orientation training on TMA assessment including how to give constructive feedback.

    It is evident that the quality of tutorial support can be maintained by a system of moderation. As such, NOUN should reinforce its quality control mechanism by monitoring tutor-marked assignments and ensuring that facilitators write constructive comments on students TMA scripts. Facilitators should be made to observe approved guidelines for TMA evaluation and adhere to turn-around time.

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    Assuring quality evaluation practices in open and distance learning system

    There is need for NOUN to ensure that marked TMA scripts are returned to students promptly as ODL learners rely on tutor feedback and comments.

    In order to reduce the likelihood of plagiarism and cheating, there is need to focus on taking preventative action. A re-evaluation of assessment strategies and the increased use of diverse and more innovative assessment methods can reduce the risk of plagiarism. Perhaps it is time to rethink our assessment strategies, and measure individuals achievement by means which are not affected by plagiarism.

    NOUN in her wisdom has envisaged the importance of deployment of technology in assessment to support end-of-semester examinations. In the same vein, there is equally need to deploy technology to handle TMA assessment as this will ameliorate some of the weaknesses inherent in the current method of assessment. E-assessment offers many advantages that TMA could tap from.

    Mechanisms for guarding against cheating on TMA should be reinforced for credibility and quality assurance in the assessment system. NOUN should not condone cheating. Students involved in such act should be made to face the music accordingly to serve as deterrent to other students.

    Conclusion

    Evaluation and assessment remain at the core of ODL programme. The increasing acceptance of ODL as a major channel of widening access to higher education underscores the need for systematic and consistent quality evaluation practices. This paper has brought to the fore the nature, essence and importance of tutor marked assignment (TMA) as essential tool and means for imparting and constructing knowledge by learners. The central argument is that for it to serve the purpose intended for its use, all the challenges identified following the result of the study must be tackled so that ODL and by extension NOUN will be able to fulfil its mandate of facilitating effective learning through the use of tutor marked assignments.

    References

    Gandhe, S. K. 2009. Quality Assurance in Open and Distance Learning in India. Retrieved from http://www.openpraxis.com/files/Gandhe%20et%20al..pdf

    Hattie, J. and Timperley, H. 2007. The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1): 81112.

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    Jegede, O. 2003. Welcome! Experience a whole new world of learning. Prospectus, National Open University of Nigeria.

    Koul, B. N. 2005. Learner support: Counselling induction workshop for the staff of National Open University of Nigeria, Victoria Island, Lagos 1721 January, 2005.

    Koul. P. 2005. Opinions of distance learners regarding assignments. Paper present at International Conference for Distance Education (ICDE), New Delhi, Nov. 1923.

    Mandernach, B. J. 2003. Incorporating and documenting effective assessment. Park University faculty Development Quick Tips.

    Passow, H. J., Mayhew, M. J., Finelli, C. J., Harding, T. S., and Carpenter, D. D. 2006. Factors influencing engineering students decisions to cheat by type of assessment, Research in Higher Education 47, 643684.

    Vygotsky, L. S. 1978. Mind in society. London: Harvard University Press.Wei, B. C., and Jasola, S. 2007. Use of statistical methods in the quality assurance

    of continuous assessment. http://library.wou.edu.my/vertical/vf2007-32.pdfWilliam, D. 2007. Keeping learning on track: classroom assessment and the

    regulation of learning. In F. Lester Jr. (Ed.), Second handbook of research on mathematics teaching and learning, pp. 10531098. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing World Fact Book, 2006

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