Russell engineers a win

February 6, 2004

An engineer who cut his student failure rate by 30 per cent in one year is the winner of the third e-tutor of the year award sponsored by The THES and the Learning and Teaching Support Network.

Mark Russell, a lecturer at Hertfordshire University, reduced a 50 per cent failure rate on a first-year fluid mechanics and thermodynamics module to 20 per cent.

Mr Russell, who wins £1,000 and a trophy, achieved this feat by automating and personalising weekly assessment tasks and feedback for first-year students.

He also modified software to track students' attendance and send them emails about how they were doing.

A team of four judges agreed that Mr Russell's work showed innovative use of Hertfordshire's managed learning environment, StudyNet, Excel and common software features, such as mail-merge.

Laurence Hamburg, senior advisor for e-learning at the LTSN Generic Centre, said of Mr Russell's achievement: "It was simple and the sort of thing that will get people saying: 'I can do that'. The tracking was not Big Brotherish but about stopping people from falling through the net. It struck a balance between monitoring students and motivating them."

The competition attracted 20 entries, mostly from new universities. Stephen Brown, chair of the Association for Learning Technology and professor of learning technologies at De Montfort University, said that the competition showed how much technology had progressed in three years.

Professor Brown said: "What we are seeing is a transition from the pioneering days when there were lots of innovations. We're now in the settler phase where the technology is more robust."

Runners-up were Elizabeth Skinner, a lecturer at Gloucestershire University who e-tutors a distance-learning course for town clerks, and Lindsey Martin, who teaches Edge Hill College students and staff how to search for information and journals online.

The fourth e-tutor of the year award will be launched in April when Mr Russell receives his prizes at the spring conference of the Association of Learning Technology in Edinburgh.

Related story
E-tutor of the year: Decision to automate is cause to celebrate

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