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Professor Sally Jordan

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Professional biography

I am Professor of Physics Education in the Open University's School of Physical Sciences. I have worked for the Open University for more than 30 years in a wide range of roles, including associate lecturer, staff tutor, Deputy Associate Dean with responsibility for Assessment and, recently, Head of School of Physical Sciences and Academic Lead for the implementation phase of a review of the Open University's Academic Promotions Scheme. I am fiercely proud of the Open University's mission: "Open to people, places, methods and ideas" and derive my motivation from our gloriously diverse Open University students who we teach at the Open University. 

My primary interests lie in the links between assessment and learning, and in equality, diversity and inclusion in the broadest sense of the words. My teaching and research in these areas was recognised by the award of the Institute of Physics' prestigious Lawrence Bragg Medal and Prize in 2023.

I have a BSc in Physics and a PhD by published work with the title E-assessment for learning? Exploring the potential of computer-marked assessment and computer-generated feedback, from short-answer questions to assessment analytics. I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. 

I served on the organising committee for the international Assessment in Higher Education (AHE) Conference for many years and I initiated a collaboration between AHE and the Transforming Assessment webinar series. I was delighted to lead the UK Delegation at the International Conference on Women in Physics in both 2021 and 2023.

I have had an unconventional career and battled for most of it with a lack of self-confidence and imposter syndrome.  I spoke about my background as one of three speakers at a recorded event "Succeeding in STEM: Three women profs and their conventional careers" in November 2019. I regularly act as a mentor to others, both formally and informally and have served two years as postgraduate research tutor for student support. I am a Mental Health First Aider and a School Listener.

Research interests

I am a physics education researcher with broad interests in:

  • Factors affecting student engagement with assessment (in particular e-assessment) and feedback;
  • The appropriate use of sophisticated computer-marked assessment, in particular short-answer free-text questions, and the reasons for the limited take-up of items of this type;
  • Students' conceptual understanding in mathematics and physics, including the use of concept inventories;
  • Demographic differences in attainment.

I was primary supervisor to Mark Parker on his PhD on the project "Establishing physics concept inventories using free text questions" and our work on automatically-marked short-answer questions and on concept inventories is now being taken forward by second-year student Ashutosh Kumar Pathak. I am also primary supervisor to Astra Sword whose project "Equity and the Physics Degree" (with funding from both the Ogden Trust and the Bell Burnell Graduate Scholarship Fund)  is investigating demographic differences in attainment in physics and the reasons for these differences.. 

I use both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, and enjoy challenging accepted norms when evidence doesn't support them, with two of the keynote presentations that I have particularly enjoyed delivering being:

  • Computer-marked assessment: Friend or foe?
  • Gender gaps in physics retention and attainment: Myth and reality

Teaching interests

My primary interests lie in developing the skills, especially the mathematical skills, which physics and other science students require for their study, and in the links between assessment and learning.

I was the main author of Maths for science (first published 2002, revised edition published Sept 2012, in copublication with Oxford University Press) which formed the basis of the highly successful Open University module with the same name (S151).

I was the first academic at the Open University to use sophisticated online computer-marked assessment, driven by a wish to provide students with instantaeous feedback on their work and to help them to pace their study. This led to the development of the OpenMark interactive online assessment system and of much of the current functionality of the Moodle Quiz Engine. A later project led to the development of the "Pattern Match" question type, which automatically marks and gives feedback on free-text answers of up to about 20 words. I have advised widely on the appropriate use of e-assessment and in particular on the use of short-answer free text computer-marked questions.

I was a member of the  production teams for S154 Science starts here and S104 Exploring science. I had responsibility for maths skills development and assessment in both modules and was author of  a book about 'Energy and light' for S104.I was also a member of the module teams that produced SXR103 Practising science, S141 Investigative and mathematical skills in science and MST224 Mathematical methods. I am now module team chair of S217 Physics: from Classical to Quantum, which feels like a return to my routes, since my second OU appointment was as a tutor on an earlier version of the same module, back in the 1990s - and I am also a member of the module team developing the S217 replacement.

Impact and engagement

The Moodle  Pattern Match question type, which automatically marks and gives feedback on short free-text responses, was developed as a direct consequence of my research. The Pattern Match plug-in is in use at more than 1200 sites worldwide, and has been translated into a range of languages including French, German, Spanish and Chinese.

As a result of my expertise in this area, I frequently advise on the automatic marking of free-text responses.

Externally funded projects

Equity in 'The Physics Degree'
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Oct 201830 Sep 2023The Ogden Trust

This project seeks to investigate demographic differences in physics degree outcomes, primarily through the analysis of a large national data-set, and to suggest factors that might lead to a more equitable situation. The discrepancies mean that not only are certain groups of students, e.g. those of particular gender, socio-economic group or ethnicity or with a disability, considerably less likely to study the subject at higher education level, but also that those who do study have lower levels of retention in completing and passing their studies. This contributes to the “leaky pipeline” whereby the percentage of students and workers in particular demographic groups declines further and further. Various factors have been hypothesised as contributing to these discrepancies, and there is considerable variation between different higher education providers.

Equity in 'The Physics Degree'
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Oct 201830 Sep 2023The Ogden Trust

This project seeks to investigate demographic differences in physics degree outcomes, primarily through the analysis of a large national data-set, and to suggest factors that might lead to a more equitable situation. The discrepancies mean that not only are certain groups of students, e.g. those of particular gender, socio-economic group or ethnicity or with a disability, considerably less likely to study the subject at higher education level, but also that those who do study have lower levels of retention in completing and passing their studies. This contributes to the “leaky pipeline” whereby the percentage of students and workers in particular demographic groups declines further and further. Various factors have been hypothesised as contributing to these discrepancies, and there is considerable variation between different higher education providers.

STFC DTG 2015 - 2016 (2015 Intake)
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Oct 201530 Sep 2020STFC Science & Technology Facilities Council

STFC DTG Quota 2015-16 AMS record for students starting on or after 01/10/2015

DTG 2015-16 (2016 INTAKE)
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Lead01 Oct 201530 Sep 2020STFC Science & Technology Facilities Council

DTG 2015-16 (2016 INTAKE)

Ogden Science Officer / Citizen Science Research Fellow
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Sep 201531 Aug 2018The Ogden Trust

The Ogden Trust is providing matched funding to a maximum of £75k for 3 years for an 0.5 FTE outreach post, that we can add to the ASTERICS post and can therefore recruit a full-time postdoctoral research assistant.

Publications

Student engagement with a novel assessment strategy (2024)
Jordan, Sally and Bolton, John
International Journal of Assessment Tools in Education, 11(1) (pp. 1-19)


Student Reaction to a Modified Force Concept Inventory: The Impact of Free-Response Questions and Feedback (2022-07)
Parker, Mark; Hedgeland, Holly; Braithwaite, N St.J and Jordan, Sally
European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 10(3) (pp. 310-323)


Establishing a physics concept inventory using computer marked free-response questions (2022)
Parker, Mark; Hedgeland, Holly; Jordan, Sally and Braithwaite, N St.J
European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 11(2) (pp. 360-375)


Investigating Male Bias in Multiple Choice Questions: Contrasting Formative and Summative Settings (2018-09-05)
Hedgeland, Holly; Dawkins, Hillary and Jordan, Sally
European Journal of Physics, 39, Article 55704(5)


Using Concept Inventories to Measure Understanding (2018-02-07)
Sands, David; Parker, Mark; Hedgeland, Holly; Jordan, Sally and Galloway, Ross
Higher Education Pedagogies, 3(1) (pp. 173-182)


Impact of scaffolding and question structure on the gender gap (2017)
Dawkins, Hillary; Hedgeland, Holly and Jordan, Sally
Physical Review Physics Education Research, 13, Article 20117(2)


Developing academics' assessment practices in open, distance and e-learning: an institutional change agenda (2016-07-31)
Evans, Jessica; Jordan, Sally and Wolfenden, Freda
Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-learning, 31(2) (pp. 91-107)


I wish I could believe you: the frustrating unreliability of some assessment research (2016)
Hunt, Tim and Jordan, Sally
Practitioner Research in Higher Education, 10(1) (pp. 13-21)


在线测评:过去,现在和未来 [E-assessment: past, present and future] (2015)
Jordan, Sally
Journal of Beijing Radio and Television University, 94(6) (pp. 8-18)


Adult science learners’ mathematical mistakes: an analysis of responses to computer-marked questions. (2014)
Jordan, Sally
European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 2(2) (pp. 63-86)


Using e-assessment to learn about students and learning (2014)
Jordan, Sally
International Journal of e-Assessment, 4(1)


E-assessment: past, present and future (2013)
Jordan, Sally
New Directions, 9(1) (pp. 87-106)


Student engagement with assessment and feedback: some lessons from short-answer free-text e-assessment questions (2012)
Jordan, Sally
Computers & Education, 58(2) (pp. 818-834)


Same but different, but is it fair? An analysis of the use of variants of interactive computer-marked questions (2012)
Jordan, Sally; Jordan, Helen and Jordan, Richard
International Journal of e-Assessment, 2(1)


Using interactive computer-based assessment to support beginning distance learners of science (2011-06)
Jordan, Sally
Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 26(2) (pp. 147-164)


A comparison of human and computer marking of short free-text student responses (2010)
Butcher, Philip G. and Jordan, Sally E.
Computers and Education, 55(2) (pp. 489-499)


Interactive screen experiments: innovative virtual laboratories for distance learners (2009-07)
Hatherly, P.A.; Jordan, S.E. and Cayless, A.
European Journal of Physics, 30(4) (pp. 751-762)


e-Assessment for learning? The potential of short-answer free-text questions with tailored feedback (2009)
Jordan, Sally and Mitchell, Tom
British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(2) (pp. 371-385)


Assessment for learning: pushing the boundaries of computer-based assessment (2009)
Jordan, Sally
Practitioner Research in Higher Education, 3(1) (pp. 11-19)


Online interactive assessment with short free-text questions and tailored feedback (2008)
Jordan, Sally
New Directions, 4 (pp. 17-20)


Mathematics assessment at a distance (2003-07)
Jordan, Sally; Butcher, Philip and Ross, Shelagh
MathStore: Maths CAA Series


The challenges of physics education in the digital era (2024)
Cayless, Alan and Jordan, Sally
In: Hidalgo, Carlos ed. EPS Grand Challenges: Physics for Society in the Horizon 2050 (pp. 8-10-8-14)
ISBN : 978-0-7503-6342-6 | Publisher : IOP Publishing | Published : Bristol


Computer-marked assessment and concept inventories (2023-08)
Jordan, Sally
In: Wood, Anna K. ed. Effective Teaching in Large STEM Classes. IOP Series in Physics Education
ISBN : 978-0-7503-5231-4 | Publisher : IOP Publishing | Published : Bristol, UK


Online instantaneous and targeted feedback for remote learners (2006-02)
Ross, Shelagh; Jordan, Sally and Butcher, Philip
In: Bryan, Cordelia and Clegg, Karen eds. Innovative assessment in Higher Education (pp. 123-131)
ISBN : 9780415356411 | Publisher : Routledge/Taylor and Francis


Women in physics in the United Kingdom: Successes, challenges and wider diversity (2023-11-17)
Jordan, Sally; Bakewell, Sarah; Sadler, Wendy; Thiemann, Heidi; Wardlow, Julie and Welsch, Carsten
In : 7th IUPAP International Conference on Women in Physics (11-16 Jul 2021, Melbourne (online))


Calculating the random guess scores of multiple-response and matching test items (2018-08-30)
Draaijer, Silvester; Jordan, Sally and Ogden, Helen
In : 2017 International Technology Enhanced Assessment Conference (TEA 2017 (5-6 Oct 2017, Barcelona) (pp. 210-222)


A review of a faculty-wide change in assessment practice for open and distance learners of science. (2014)
Jordan, Sally
In : 8th EDEN Research Workshop: Challenged for Research into Open & Distance Learning: Doing Things Better-Doing Better Things (27-28 Oct 2014, Oxford, UK)


Using e-assessment to learn about learning (2013-07)
Jordan, Sally
In : 2013 International Computer Assisted Assessment Conference (9-10 Jul 2013, Southampton)


Does the Sun orbit the Earth? Challenges in using short free-text computer-marked questions (2013)
Jordan, Sally and Butcher, Philip
In : HEA STEM Annual Learning and Teaching Conference 2013: Where Practice and Pedagogy Meet (17-18 Apr 2013, Birmingham, UK)


Short-answer e-assessment questions : five years on (2012)
Jordan, Sally
In : 2012 International Computer Assisted Assessment Conference (10-11 Jul 2012, Southampton)


Same but different, but is it fair? An analysis of the use of variants of interactive computer-marked questions (2011)
Jordan, Sally; Jordan, Helen and Jordan, Richard
In : 2011 International Computer Assisted Assesment Conference (5-6 Jul 2011, Southampton)


Using e-assessment to support distance learners of science (2010)
Jordan, Sally and Butcher, Philip
In : The GIREP-EPEC & PHEC 2009 International Conference (17-21 Aug 2009, Leicester, UK)


An investigation into the use of e-assessment to support student learning (2009)
Jordan, Sally
In : Second Assessment in Higher Education Conference (08 Jul 2009, University of Cumbria, Carlisle, UK)


eAssessment and the independent learner (2009)
Butcher, P. G.; Swithenby, S. J. and Jordan, S. E.
In : M-2009: Proceedings of the 23rd ICDE World Conference on Open Learning and Distance Education including the 2009 EADTU Annual Conference (7-10 Jun 2009, Maastricht, NL)


Supporting open learners by computer based assessment with short free-text responses and tailored feedback (2008)
Swithenby, Stephen and Jordan, Sally
In : 2nd International Multi-Conference on Society, Cybernetics and Informatics (29 Jun - 02 Jul 2008, Orlando, Florida)


Extending the pedagogic role of on line interactive assessment: providing feedback on short free-text responses (2007)
Jordan, Sally; Brockbank, Barbara and Butcher, Philip
In : REAP International Online Conference on Assessment Design for Learner Responsibility (29-31 May 2007)


Computer based assessment with short free responses and tailored feedback (2007)
Jordan, Sally
In : Proceedings of the Science Learning and Teaching Conference 2007, Higher Education Academy, ISBN 978-1-905788-2. (19-20 Jun 2007, Keele University)


Moodle: enhancing the assessment capabilities of the leading open source virtual learning environment (2006)
Sclater, Niall; Butcher, Philip; Thomas, Pete and Jordan, Sally
In : Proceedings of the 10th CAA International Computer Assisted Assessment Conference (4-5 Jul 2006, Loughborough University, England)


The mathematical misconceptions of adult distance-learning science students (2006)
Jordan, Sally
In : CETL-MSOR Conference, 2006 (11-12 Sep 2006, Loughborough University)


Online summative assessment with feedback as an aid to effective learning at a distance (2005)
Jordan, Sally and Swithenby, Stephen
In : Proceedings of the 12th International Symposium on Improving Student Learning : Diversity and inclusivity. (06-08 Sep 2004, Birmingham)