The shift to digital assessment: who wins and who loses out?
The pandemic has been a catalyst for change throughout the world. Within the education space, it has caused disruption to traditional methods and for many, encouraged a shift towards online learning and assessment for continuity of learning in such unprecedented times. However, the digital assessment landscape itself has no blanket rule: solutions vary by country, region, and education systems. Although there is progress towards digital technologies as organisations modernise and become more efficient; any further progress requires identifying key ‘wins’ for those considering transforming their assessment process.
To explore this in more detail, RM, in partnership with the International Association for Education Assessment (IAEA), launched a research report looking at the global digital assessment landscape in a post-pandemic world. You can download the full research report for a more holistic view of how learnings like this can help us to realise the opportunities in education and assessment across the world.
During the research, participants were asked to comment on a scenario-based question: ‘Imagine that your country [or alternatively: your region] embarked on a national project and converted all paper-based exams to on-screen assessments within the next 5 years. Let’s assume that the project was a total success, and in 2027 all assessments are in fact converted to on-screen. Who are the ‘winners’ of this? And who are the ‘losers’?’
Three respondents struggled to identify any losers from global adoption of digital assessment. They had an optimistic view that moving assessments online would bring benefit to all involved. More specifically, the digitally literate were recognised as the biggest winners of digital assessment, with one respondent feeling that only those with digital skills would benefit. Moving assessments online enables a plethora of ways to test candidates through an approach tailored to the individual, including different media formats, and testing relevant skills not simply memory recall. With a higher focus on training, this could help boost digital confidence for some and unlock greater accessibility capabilities for those that need it. Having the necessary infrastructure in place emerged as a prerequisite of successfully adopting digital assessment and so, it was assumed that those in metropolitan areas would be at an advantage in this way. As the appetite for digital transformation grows, infrastructure will need to follow suit.
The convenience and higher quality feedback from digital assessment was recognised as benefitting learners. On the other side, the reduced administrative burden would allow teachers to use their time more efficiently to focus on teaching and assessment. Additionally, the richer data gathered digitally on candidates’ progress and achievements would provide thorough insight as to what the candidate needs going forward, giving an educator the ability to further shape their teaching practice. In a professional setting, deeper data analysis might showcase the true capability of an employee, and in a university context, it would make it easier for admissions staff to match students to the courses that are a ‘best fit’.
According to the research, although many certainly benefit from the transition to digital assessment, some may not fare as well with such a transformative change. The paper industry was highlighted by most as an obvious ‘loser’ from moving assessments online as demand for their services would decrease, and if this were significant enough, some paper companies could be driven out of business if reluctant to evolve with the change. For individuals, it was felt that the digitally illiterate, and especially those living in rural locations, without the correct IT training, would fall behind due to their unfamiliarity with digital technology. However, it was widely acknowledged that the digital divide could decrease in size with the wider adoption of digital. A particular group that might struggle is teachers with a lower level of digital experience who could view digital assessment as a threat to their job security. Providing adequate teacher training to close this gap would help build their confidence with digital and encourage them to embrace online assessment.
Another stakeholder reported that students with Special Educational Needs might suffer, with one respondent feeling that unless online assessment was simplified and adapted in line with their individual needs, it might not be a best-fit for this group. Contrary to this, data suggests that digital assessment technology provides an unrivalled opportunity to personalise assessments to cater for individuals’ needs. This includes varied media formats to choose from as opposed to paper-based assessment that assesses students in the same way, irrespective of their learning capabilities. There is a growing consensus that introducing assessment technology at the right time and in the right way can provide more equitable learning opportunities across the board than traditional assessment methods.
There is an emerging perspective that those who benefit from digital assessment are those engaging directly with it. For instance, students benefit from the convenience and relevance of online assessment, and teachers benefit from being able to use their time more efficiently. On the other hand, those more likely to lose out in the shift to online assessment are those who are unable to obtain the necessary infrastructure, devices, or IT skills. Overall, there is a long way to go in growing the awareness of the opportunities that digital assessment can bring to the education sector, and this can be seen through hesitation to embark and invest in the transformative journey. By working together and driving a culture of adaptability, the opportunities digital assessment can bring will grow from strength to strength for all involved.
Want to hear more about our research findings on the digital assessment landscape? Come and talk to us on Stand 4 at the IAEA Conference 2nd – 6th October.