the e-Assessment Association

Reflecting on how remote invigilation has shaped smarter learning

Headshot David Redden

NCFE’s Product Manager, David Redden, reflects on how NCFE’s remote invigilation solution has shaped smarter learning during challenging times for providers and learners

Article reproduced with kind permission

One year on from the launch of our remote invigilation, we’re reflecting on how this assessment solution has shaped smarter learning during challenging times for providers and learners.

"We’ve had over 8,000 learners sit an assessment through the remote invigilation solution, receiving their results in 6 working days"

David Redden, Product Manager at NCFE

An overnight change

No one knew just how much things were going to change when the first lockdown was announced on 23 March 2020.

In those early days, teachers had to change their whole delivery approach overnight, from classroom-based to remote teaching. Then, as it became apparent that the pandemic would not be over quickly, the focus moved on to assessments, and how we were going to overcome the issue of learners not being able to complete them.

At first, the Department for Education (DfE) turned to Centre Assessed Grades (CAGs) as the solution, but everyone soon realised that we needed a more sustainable approach to completing assessments. In the summer of 2020, NCFE conducted numerous virtual sessions with providers, schools and colleges to understand the challenges and needs around assessment.

The resounding belief was that we needed to bring a remote invigilation solution to the market to make assessments accessible to learners, to prevent delays in them being able to achieve and move on to their next step.

Seeking a flexible assessment solution

At NCFE, we’ve always believed that flexibility is key when it comes to assessments, which is why we offer all of our Functional Skills assessments on-demand. We took this approach into our scoping for a remote invigilation solution, as we looked for a solution that allowed learners to sit an assessment at a time and in a location that was most suitable to them.

That’s why we chose to go with our “record and review” solution. This allows a learner to be booked onto a remote invigilated assessment without having to specify a set date and time. This means that learners and apprentices who work during the day can sit their assessment in the evening or at weekends.

We set about working collaboratively with our partners to develop our system and integrate it that summer. By November 2020, we were underway with an extensive pilot, working with internal staff first, before rolling it out to 3, and then 20, centres to pilot. This allowed us to work closely with the centres and learners to ensure that they had the optimum experience, and to fine-tune our guidance and support to enable their full understanding of the process and system.

Helping learners to achieve success remotely

Once we had everything in place to support our learners, we officially launched our remote invigilation solution to the market on 24 February 2021.

On that first day, we had 12 learners sit their assessment with over half of them achieving, which was a great start. Since then, we’ve had over 8,000 learners sit an assessment through the remote invigilation solution, receiving their results in 6 working days. Over half (54%) of those learners have had a successful outcome, enabling them to progress through Gateway, into new employment or further into education.

Is remote invigilation here to stay?

Remote invigilation was brought in to solve a problem during the pandemic – however, as we move out of the pandemic, we are seeing it becoming firmly embedded as a valid assessment option in the “new world”. Over 20% of online assessments are currently carried out through remote invigilation, as centres and learners see the benefit of sitting assessments at a time that suits them.

Looking around the sector, we’re seeing the possibility of opening up this format to many more assessments and creating a whole new way of learning and assessing qualifications. These are exciting times as it moves us further away from a “one size fits all” approach and towards making assessments and education an option to all.

While there are undoubtedly issues around digital poverty as we move forward and become more innovative, we’re striving to make assessments more accessible to everyone and to the benefit of the learner.

Final thoughts and silver linings

Although there have been many challenging days over the past two years, as we now start to reflect, we can start looking at the positive rays of light that have come out of these days. We’re in a much stronger position in terms of delivering qualifications, mixing traditional methods with new digital tools to achieve stronger and faster initial and diagnostic assessments, through to a more flexible approach to assessments.

From just having paper-based assessments to the addition of online assessment, we now have remote invigilated assessment – and the innovation won’t stop there!

How can Artificial Intelligence in online learning support emotional and social development?

Dean Blewitt NCFE

By Dean Blewitt, Learning Innovation Manager at NCFE.

Republished with kind permission.

In reacting to COVID-19, the priority for education providers was ensuring face-to-face learning and assessment activities were transitioned to an online environment (Hill, 2020). In doing so, practitioners may have lacked the capacity to consider the implications an online environment might have on the emotional and social development of learners (Heitz, Laboissiere, Sanghvi, & Sarakatsannis, 2020).

From my own experience of transitioning to the online world, I have certainly missed some aspects of in-person working, and I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for students going from classrooms of 20 – 30 peers to online sessions or recordings where cameras and microphones were routinely turned off.

As a school governor, I found that whilst some learners thrived under the remote circumstances, many struggled to adapt to this new way of teaching and learning. This view is supported by anecdotal evidence which suggests that many learners experienced feelings of isolation and demotivation as the rapid transition to online learning was made (Hall & Batty, 2020Turner, 2020).

"We’re looking forward to continuing to support the sector in making innovative progress, and we hope our Assessment Innovation Fund acts as a catalyst for change by providing evidence-based, alternative assessment solutions."

Dean Blewitt, Learning Innovation Manager, NCFE

Using AI in learning and feedback

As we work towards a future where artificial intelligence (AI) is commonplace in education settings, the question is, how can we best use it to support learners academically, emotionally, and socially? One solution that could be beneficial in supporting learners is by providing online assessment feedback via AI.

Feedback is already well-evidenced as one of the most efficient and cost-effective methods of supporting learning outcomes – however, it is important to note that feedback is most effective when coming from the learner’s teacher or practitioner (EEF, 2021). Written or typed text is one of the more efficient ways to provide feedback and is the preferred method when using digital technology, but research suggests that online students feel more supported and motivated when feedback is via personalised video recordings (Mahoney, Macfarlane, & Ajjawi, 2019).

Although personalised video feedback can benefit learners, my own experience as a maths teacher (and failed attempts at recording feedback on YouTube) tells me that it can be time consuming and difficult to capture. Balancing personalised video feedback with planning lessons, delivery, intervention, tracking progress and the other administrative duties, it’s easy to understand why written feedback is preferred.

Implementing AI as a real-world solution

However, with the advancement of both AI avatars (imagine yourself, but virtual) and Natural Language Processing (technology that allows for open text to be understood and marked by AI), it’s feasible to picture a future where the formative and summative assessment process is largely automated. These developments mean that assessments could be auto marked by AI, with tutors supplementing and personalising the AI feedback which is generated.

Once generated, tutors could submit the feedback as text where suitable for accuracy, or as an AI avatar, which converts the feedback text to a video message, in any language. The AI avatar presents as a digital version of the learner’s tutor, allowing the learner to retain a personal connection with the tutor and still feel supported and motivated (Mahoney, Macfarlane, & Ajjawi, 2019).

This development could support learners’ emotional and social development by supplementing areas where digital text is inadequate. For example, tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language. The learner would be able to receive regular feedback and support that is comparable to the classroom environment.

Taken a step further, the AI data could be automated into provider systems for data capture requirements and used to produce meaningful reporting for learners, parents, practitioners, and senior leaders, further supporting in reducing practitioner workload and administrative duties which many practitioners cite as areas of stress and unhappiness (Teacher Tapp, 2021).

Looking to the future

The disruption of traditional methods of teaching and learning has led to a focus on how digital technology such as AI can better support learners academically, emotionally, and socially. Although there is still a considerable amount of work in developing, testing, and ensuring suitability (ethically and pedagogically), the future is extremely exciting.

We, the Assessment Innovation Team at NCFE, are seeing large scale piloting and adoption of new digital technology being adapted in ways that better meet the needs of learners and educators today. Colleges, training providers and Ed-Tech organisations that are planning to further develop these approaches have applied to our Assessment Innovation Fund, which is now in its third funding window.

The Assessment Innovation Fund offers successful applicants up to £100,000 to collaborate on piloting innovative approaches to assessment across the learner journey. Some of the successful applicants so far include The Sheffield College, The Really NEET Project, and the University of Newcastle (Australia). They all have intriguingly different ideas, but one thing in common – the desire to transform the learning and assessment experience.

We’re looking forward to continuing to support the sector in making innovative progress, and we hope our Assessment Innovation Fund acts as a catalyst for change by providing evidence-based, alternative assessment solutions.

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eAA Sponsor AlphaPlus has been acquired by AQA, the UK’s leading assessment organisation.

AlphaPlus acquisition – press release

AQA is the UK’s biggest exam board, setting and marking around half the GCSEs and A-levels taken in England each year. It is a world leader in assessment, with a cutting-edge research department focusing on advancing assessment and a joint venture with Oxford University Press – OxfordAQA – offering qualifications internationally.

This acquisition will allow AlphaPlus to pass on the benefits of AQA’s considerable assessment, research and technological capabilities to our clients while operating as a standalone subsidiary of AQA. AQA’s goal of advancing education by helping teachers and students realise their potential is strongly aligned with AlphaPlus’ values, and we welcome this exciting opportunity to develop our work both in the UK and internationally.

John Winkley, AlphaPlus Director, said:

“AlphaPlus is delighted to be joining the AQA group. Founded on our highly compatible cultures and shared commitment to helping learners succeed, we believe that AQA’s scale and capabilities will be complementary to AlphaPlus’ development and allow us to offer a broader and more integrated range of services to our customers.”

Colin Hughes, AQA’s Chief Executive, said:

“AlphaPlus is a hugely trusted and respected team of assessment specialists who will bring a wealth of expertise and experience to AQA. AQA’s charitable purpose is to advance learning and teaching by providing the best possible educational assessment. AlphaPlus will greatly extend the range and scale of what we can offer, both in the UK and around the world. We’re making ambitious plans together for the future.”

Caribbean Examinations Council selects Surpass platform

West Yorkshire, January 2022 –

BTL Group Ltd. is delighted to announce that the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC®), the premier assessment board across the Caribbean region, has selected the Surpass assessment platform to digitally transform its end-to-end examinations process as part of its commitment to shape the future of education and assessment within the region.

CXC® oversees assessments in schools across 21 Caribbean countries, often contending with the challenges of paper exam distribution and marking across a wide area, and subject to natural disasters like hurricanes. To mitigate against these challenges, alongside concerns about the stability or lack of internet connections in some countries for online examinations, CXC® turned to Surpass. The Surpass assessment platform, created by BTL, allows candidates to take an on-screen test in an entirely offline environment with swift response uploads, addressing concerns about the stability of internet connections for online examinations. This reduces reliance on printing and can be more efficient in turnaround time for marking and reporting results.

In addition to working together to bring thousands of current exams on-screen, BTL has been working in collaboration with CXC® to develop a new Custom Question Type (CQT) Framework. This allows Awarding Organisations to develop new, advanced question types or simulations that are specific to their needs. In CXC’s case, their Custom Question Types allowed for the assessment of the critical skills of manipulating graphs and developing scales, whilst maintaining an intuitive experience for younger candidates or those with lower technical proficiency.

Following the implementation of Surpass, CXC® has been growing its e-Assessments and with the Surpass Implementation, is planning to double its offerings in the coming years. CXC’s overall ambition is to move all their exams onscreen within three to five years.

“CXC® is mindful of the changing educational landscape which requires a strong technological focus on the digital transformation of teaching, learning and assessment. We are excited to be working with the team from BTL Surpass, who are helping us to move our paper based exams to on-screen delivery.” Rodney Payne, Director, Technological Innovation at CXC®.

The Surpass Platform is a fully integrated end-to-end solution (from item creation to delivery and marking onscreen), able to deliver offline or in areas of unreliable internet connectivity. This combined with a commitment to continuous investment and enhancement into products, futureproofs the approach. CXC® recognised the significant benefits in adopting an item authoring and reviewing platform that provides increased security and quality assurance capabilities, a test driver application that supports fully offline testing for areas with intermittent or no internet connectivity, and a fully integrated end-to-end platform that does not require the exporting and importing of items and tests from one application to another.

About CXC
The Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC®) was established in 1972 under Agreement by the Participating Governments in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). CXC® assures the global human resource competitiveness of the Caribbean through the provision of syllabuses of the highest quality; valid and reliable examinations and certificates of international repute for students of all ages, abilities, and interests; services to educational institutions in the development of syllabuses, examinations and examinations’ administration, in the most cost effective way. CXC® comprises 16 Participating Countries: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Turks and Caicos Islands. The first examinations for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate® (CSEC®) were offered in 1979 in five subjects. Subsequent to CSEC®, CXC® has introduced a comprehensive suite of qualifications to meet the needs of the region: Caribbean Primary Exit Assessment™ (CPEA™), Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence® (CCSLC®), *Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ), Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination® (CAPE®) and the CXC® Associate Degree (CXC®- AD). The organisation also collaborates with countries in the Dutch Caribbean – Curaçao, Saba, St Eustatius and St Maarten, as well as Suriname.

*Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) is the trademark of the Caribbean Association of National Training Authorities. CXC® is one of the National Training Agencies in the Caribbean which awards CVQs.

About BTL
BTL Group Ltd., which includes the USA-based BTL Surpass Inc., is an international leader in the provision of computer-based testing technology for secure and high-stakes assessments. We provide tailor-made support for any assessment programme with our range of test development services. Our technology and psychometric experts work alongside organisations for successful test production, item analysis and much more. Our SaaS platform, Surpass, powers the development and delivery of tests for credentialing organisations, universities and government bodies across the world with over 25 million high-stakes tests being delivered via Surpass to date. We also provide a global test centre network for session-based and on-demand testing, as well as an innovative dual-camera remote invigilation solution, giving organisations the flexibility they need to expand their candidate reach

BTL invests significantly in jobs and growth with £10m this year

Yorkshire, UK, November 2021

BTL Group Ltd., the Yorkshire-based provider of onscreen assessment platform, Surpass, has announced a £10 million investment into its products and services to further support its rapid growth both in the UK and overseas markets.

By providing the tools and expertise needed to move offline paper-based exams into an onscreen (online or offline) environment, BTL has allowed many organisations to continue delivering tests throughout the pandemic. Online invigilated tests in particular rose 6,500% at BTL in 2020/21. The pandemic’s impact on in-person events has led to a surge of interest in online options for high-stakes test delivery. With BTL already delivering over 5 million tests a year across 144 countries, BTL has been uniquely positioned to help facilitate this uptake in onscreen testing.

BTL are investing a significant £10m in their Surpass product and related services, with plans to continue this level of investment in growth next year. This investment comes entirely from company revenue generated in the financial year 2020/21, and is being re-invested to ensure future growth. Providing secure, skilled jobs, BTL is a great Northern success story. Prior to announcing the £10m investment, they were recently shortlisted in the top 100 companies 2021 in the Northern Tech awards, and have been listed by the Yorkshire Business Insider as a top 500 growth company in the region.

Supporting the British education sector and working with clients such as the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), City and Guilds and OCR, BTL is also succeeding internationally, particularly with its expansion in North America, winning The Queen’s Award for Enterprise – International Trade in 2020. New developments include a new candidate test booking system for the BTL Test Centre Network and Online Invigilation service, and significant ongoing enhancement of the Surpass platform to meet the needs of its growing international community.

A family-founded company, BTL has expanded with 90% growth in staff over the last five years, currently employing around 170 staff in the UK and US. Its investment and track-record in growth makes it attractive to potential employees and investors. Founded by entrepreneur Bob Gomersall in 1985, BTL is a global provider of assessment services and technology.

“We are proud that our technology is used worldwide and has had a positive role to play in the COVID-19 pandemic. This significant investment will enable us to continue to be the fastest growing community in the assessment industry.” commented Jim Crawford, Business Development Director at BTL.