the e-Assessment Association

Assessing pedagogy’s use of digital exams

Assessing pedagogy’s use of digital exams

Patrick Craven, director at City & Guilds and vice-chairman of The e-Assessment Association, reviews the potential benefits of technology-enhanced assessment

Article first published in Education Investor, 04/05/2017 

E-assessment can take many forms. Whether it’s a multiple-choice test, marking online scripts automatically or by a human grader, or the use of a digital portfolio for evidence-based assessment – its applications are diverse, constantly evolving and converging as assessment methodology and technologies develop.

In the professional world, such as the medical, accounting and digital sectors, e-assessment for tests is increasingly the norm. At present, the same cannot be said for the education sector. But how can pedagogy benefit from digital assessment more broadly when used to support assessment at all stages of learning?

Tim Downie, global business development director at RM Results, says, “The e-marking of high-stakes exam scripts, the ability for examiners to mark exam responses onscreen – whether scanned paper exam scripts or computer-based exam responses – has provided numerous opportunities to improve the transparency, security, quality, efficiency and flexibility of sitting exams and marking papers.

“Ten years ago, e-assessment generally meant low-stakes; computer-based tests involving multiple-choice questions, with technology hardly used in formative or summative assessment, outside of ICT courses. But e-assessment has evolved significantly over the past decade. Cambridge Assessment has already been exploring onscreen marking capabilities, partnering with RM Results in 2005 to further develop a solution that would enable them to mark exam scripts onscreen efficiently and many awarding bodies are now rolling out high-stakes computer (or audio/visual)-based assessments, with the majority of general qualification exams now being marked on-screen throughout the UK.”

Barriers to digital examinations
However, the education sector, at present, has failed to recognise the benefits of e-assessment, and as John Winkley from AlphaPlus Consultancy explains: “National Tests, GCSEs and A Levels still make almost no use of technology. For the UK industry – particularly vocational and professional certification bodies, and school exam boards – leveraging technology would place the British Education system ahead of its global counterparts.”

Unfortunately, one of the main barriers to the adoption of e-assessment is often that digitising existing assessment requires several thousand computers to be utilised at one time. This physical barrier means we cannot (yet) have every child sit at a connected computer on the same day at the same time to sit one national GCSE exam. But if we start to view technology from a more strategic perspective, it affords us the ability to ask, can we transform educational assessment practice to approach measurement in other ways?

One case in point is The University of Edinburgh which has recently started using digital forms of assessment. It uses a technology from Digital Assess called Adaptive Comparative Judgement (ACJ) to empower learners to critique their peers’ work against assessment criteria and boost attainment. Using ACJ in an assessment for learning approach has placed significant emphasis on formative assessment and feedback together with dialogue, self-critical reflection and action on feedback, so students now see their education as a linear, iterative and holistic progression though defined periods of learning.

We’ve also seen increasing application of e-assessment in the form of e-portfolios, although this is an idea that so many have failed to implement at scale or use effectively at present. The University of Bradford’s School of Midwifery provided an excellent example of how to implement e-portfolios for high-stakes qualifications.

The International Baccalaureate’s middle years programme has recently moved away from schools developing in-house examinations and has introduced optional on-screen examinations as part of its formal summative assessment offerings. After thorough testing from 2013, the system now features scrolling question screens, linked question parts, data gathering and analysis activities, simulations and a universal canvas for drawing, mind-maps, flow charts, presentations, chemical experiments, electrical experiments and mathematical formulae.

With e-assessment affording schools and universities the chance to assess different skills and abilities, gather portfolio evidence of a student’s body of learning, and deliver career specific assessments, such as on-entry and aptitude testing, the future of e-assessment within the pedagogical sphere is set to be very healthy.

Change in motion
As Claire Hodgson from National Foundation for Educational Research explains, “e-assessment is having an increasing influence on the education sector and, as such, there is a growing interest in e-assessment for school-aged children. There is a clear move towards online assessment as a way to capitalise on streamlined delivery, improved and more finely tuned reporting functionality, speed of delivery and marking, and the provision of timely feedback to support future learning.

“With international surveys, such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), moving to online delivery, there is now a move away from simply converting paper tests to e-versions to the creation of e-specific tests. This is prompting countries to introduce their own e-assessments in order to keep up with this international trend and ensure their students are being offered opportunities that are on a par with their international peers.”

National testing programmes for school-aged learners in two of the UK home nations are already moving to online assessment and e-assessment is being used more and more in higher and further education institutions.

The next interesting challenge will involve the future role of qualifications and how they might co-exist with other forms of accreditation and credentialing.

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