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Assessment Blog

27th November 2020

Beyond 2020: how pandemic changed the digital assessment conversation

RM Results

Back in October 2018, we held an event at the IB Global Centre in Cardiff called 2020 and Beyond: Opportunities and Challenges for Assessment in the Digital Age. Little did we know at the time quite how pivotal this year would be in terms of accelerating the journey to e-learning and e-assessment for educational and awarding organisations worldwide. Educators and assessment specialists in 2020 have re-ignited conversations on the purpose of assessment and how we can deliver them in the fairest and most equitable way.

Assessment as a process

At our 2020 and Beyond event, speaker Dr Stuart Kime, from Evidence Based Education, put forward two definitions of what he thinks the role of assessment and exams looks like in the 21st century:

  • Assessment is a process, not an event, and has the single ultimate aim of allowing people to derive inferences.

  • It is important to focus on the exam as much as the learning itself, because a good exam supports cognitive activation.

Assessment for learning, or formative assessment, has an important role to play in this. Regular assessment should inform and improve the student’s ongoing learning, identifying areas for development or feedback.

Peer assessment can also enhance students’ learning by honing their judgement skills. This helps them to identify criteria for success and has been shown to have a direct positive impact on learning outcomes.

Using technology to improve, but not drive, the assessment

The brain is a powerful and fascinating thing. Part of an educator’s job is to develop and stimulate the minds of their students. When moving to a new assessment delivery system, it is important that the student remains motivated.

As part of their Digital Assessment Vision, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) report that 97% of students in a 2018 pilot found their digital exam experience a positive one, and 95% preferred to sit their exam digitally rather than on paper. Student experience is of growing importance for educational and awarding organisations and increasingly students expect to be assessed in their preferred way of working.

Similarly, in professional qualifications, students want to be assessed in a more real-world context – using spreadsheeting technologies in an accountancy exam rather than pen and paper, for example.

During our 2020 and Beyond event, Gareth Hegarty described how the IB developed their Middle Years Programme (MYP) assessments for online platforms. In a rich multimedia environment, students are encouraged to use the resources presented to them to change variables, measure response and reproduce an enquiry process, manipulating the information they find online. This also helps to support and develop students’ cognitive activation.

In other words, digital assessment doesn’t need to replicate what has been done before on paper. Technology certainly shouldn’t drive the assessment, but it can act as an enabler to creating richer, real-world and relevant assessments of skills and knowledge than paper allows.

Managing exam security

Sending out exam papers involves a degree of risk, with the possibility that papers could be intercepted and exam questions compromised or ‘leaked’.

Delivering digital assessments remotely, which some universities and awarding organisations pivoted to in 2020, comes with its own security concerns of course – how do we verify that the person taking the exam is the candidate and how do we ensure they can’t ‘cheat’ by accessing online resources during the test?

JISC reported on some of the different approaches universities took in answer to these challenges which included allowing ‘open book’ exams. Remote proctoring was also used by some universities and awarding organisations as a way to invigilate digital exams which students took remotely.

2020 has certainly proved to be a year like no other, with enormous pressures on educational and awarding organisations. Whatever happens next, it is likely that we won’t simply go back to the way things were done before in all areas of our lives. Assessment may well be one such area.

Find out more about the presentations and roundtable discussions that took place at 2020 and Beyond: Opportunities and Challenges for Assessment in the Digital Age.

Download the event report

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