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The Digital Assessment News

4th February 2020

E-marking and the future of assessment (inc. artificial intelligence)

Picture of Melanie Thomson

Melanie Thomson

What does the future hold for learning assessment and e-marking?

As education demands grow and evolve, so too does the necessity for continuous improvement to the administration and assessment of learning. We are at a critical point in the development of education – the current education system faces the challenge of keeping up with the development of technology and preparing students for jobs of the future that may not even exist yet, whilst continuing to ensure the fundamentals of learning are not overlooked along the way.

The need for the integration of technology within assessment and learning is crucial to changing this picture. It is also necessary for education to continue to remove barriers that prevent people from accessing good quality education and qualifications, providing the opportunity for a better future.

Through the use of technology and a willingness to increase flexibility, education and qualifications can become more accessible than ever, for example through students being able to use their own devices or being assessed remotely.

The future of assessment is bright, but with the possibilities also comes the need to invest in research. The use of technology can aid this research, giving access to rich data sets that can inform and predict where developments need to be made.

Download the opportunities for artificial intelligence in e-marking, report.

Digital assessments

E-marking focusses on the marking of papers digitally but still using traditional exam methods like pen and paper to assess students’ progress. Digital assessment, where the entire assessment process is done digitally, has growing benefits for students, institutions and policy makers alike.

There has been a growing trend in formative assessment for gamification to engage students in their learning. Maths and grammar games used for homework, for example, show that digital assessment can help quickly assess learning and provide useful feedback for teachers.

As the benefits of digital assessment become clearer, we see an increasing number of institutions and awarding organisations exploring and moving to digital assessment. There is growing acknowledgement that the way students currently sit exams is out-of-step with both their day-to-day learning experience of education and the current world of employment. When else in our lives do we sit down and handwrite for 2-3 hours?

Digital assessment is also being adopted at a national level by some countries to ensure that they are maintaining a consistent learning and assessment experience for students. Both New Zealand and Egypt are moving towards nationalised digital assessment programmes.

Replicating a more accurate working and learning environment is a valuable benefit of digital assessment. Not to mention that instant access to data and statistics can help you identify where students are faltering during exams, informing curriculum or learning and teaching changes.

Digital assessment can also incorporate audio and visual exams alongside computer-aided testing for candidates with additional accessibility needs. The possibilities are emerging and evolving all the time.

E-marking or e-moderation of coursework

Coursework is still a large part of the assessment framework for many institutions so a move to e-marking should also consider coursework. This may pose some unique challenges such as ensuring that examiners can view the content exactly as it is intended, with artwork for example. In-built multimedia players or image viewers can aid this.

Vocational portfolios are another assessment type. Digital solutions not only allow the moderation and marking of such portfolios, but offer the option to move such portfolios online. This provides the potential for candidates to keep an ongoing record of their work which might need to be inspected regularly for professional bodies that require registration and assessment.

E-marking adds an additional element of security for those conducting the coursework or building a portfolio because there is reduced risk of work being lost.

In practical terms, e-marking for coursework enables a significant reduction in the volume of physical documents and paperwork that examiners would need to have delivered to them, which can cause storage issues during the marking period.

Allowing coursework to be subjected to the same quality checks and measures as exams ensures standards are maintained across all areas of assessment, making for more reliable results and increased quality assurance.

Remote invigilation

If testing is to move further towards online and computer based assessment, how will standards be maintained across these formats? How will exam conditions and criteria be adhered to and monitored?

Finding test centres that are capable of administering tests and your preferred method of delivery can be a challenge, particularly if you are testing globally. That being said, delivery of invigilation this way can be a good accompaniment to online or computer-based testing because you can be assured it is being held to high standards and accreditations.

Another option gaining popularity is online invigilation, or remote proctoring, allowing invigilators to log in remotely at any time, from anywhere, with the ability to monitor online tests and candidates, ensuring necessary exam conditions are met. This provides the potential to offer flexibility for people to complete exams in a location that suits them, without having to travel to test centres.

But how can the technology ensure the trustworthiness of students during exams? For many systems, remote invigilation is done via a live video link so that the invigilator can see the student and look for behaviours or patterns in how they’re completing the exam that could indicate cheating.

While it might raise privacy issues for many, it also opens doors to candidates who may have problems accessing education because they live in a remote location and for students who have accessibility needs that struggle to travel or attend exams because there is no provision in place to assist them.

Conducting exams in this way, with a remote invigilator, also allows exams to take place when external influences, like bad weather, would have caused delays or cancellations.

Portable test centres

Increasing standards of education and assessment is a global issue and one that is delivered differently depending on location and development levels of different countries. Accessing education and assessment for all is a challenge that digital intervention can enable and provide.

Portable test centres is the idea that a portable battery-powered server can enable a “pop-up” test centre without reliance on the need for an electricity supply or an internet connection. This could transform access to examinations and testing for candidates in remote areas of the world who would otherwise be excluded from formal education or qualifications.

Portable test centres could provide invaluable “snapshot” data on students’ levels of understanding and knowledge, comparing locations and test results or even giving feedback on test conditions and what environments increase or decrease performance. Sterile exam locations can often impact students with behavioural needs or those who might have anxiety, so looking at information that compares and contrasts performance beyond simply results could be a powerful tool.

Schools and universities could also use portable test centres to ease pressures on already crammed estates facilities. During busy exam periods, you often find institutions using every additional space to conduct exams – sports halls, libraries, dining halls etc. This can play havoc with timetables and schedules, by using portable testing centres the need to find additional space is removed with no disruption to day-to-day operations.

It can also help institutions to plan exam schedules with ease, by removing the need to cross-check availability of spaces in order for exams to take place.

Artificial intelligence in digital assessment

Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to emerge as one of the leading forms of technology for human advancement. With countless uses in every walk of life, there are still questions around how it will develop its comprehension around sophisticated forms of human interaction and the understanding of complex topics that require a less definitive response.

The use of AI in digital assessment are still emerging but it does present a great opportunity for assisting assessors and human examiners by automating lower level or administrative processes.

AI can help remove language barriers within e-marking. Using assessors from around the world means additional language support is needed. Rather than traditional reliance on local language experts or translators, AI could negate the need for additional language services by integrating translation software and responses into e-marking programmes.

Within e-marking, chatbots can be beneficial for automating responses to common user problems or questions. This helps speed up responses for examiners, without the need for waiting on information, and act as an informer for software providers. The record and analysis of automated chats can inform them of common problems, helping them to develop software functionality further and informing support needs for clients.

Download the opportunities for artificial intelligence in e-marking, report.


The potential for AI to assist further in the future could include verifying facts and information stated within essay-based responses. By scanning the text and locating keywords based upon the subject of the exam question, helpful pop-up boxes could supply information to help assessors determine the truth of statements or to provide additional information to complement their existing subject knowledge.

Read a full report on the opportunities for artificial intelligence in e-marking now and in the future.

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