Colleges and training providers across the UK are looking to technology to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and flexibility of their assessment and feedback practice.
Many are keen to innovate, prompted by learners’ expectations of online submission and feedback and more flexible, relevant modes of assessment. Others are finding quality and efficiency gains from integrated systems. And both teachers and learners benefit from feedback that is timely, interactive and retrievable
In a digital age, it is important to take advantage of what technology can bring to assessment and feedback.
Our assessment and feedback lifecycle model captures the elements or stages across any assessment or feedback activity, from a short quiz to a final assignment.
Teachers and trainers often innovate with technology at the 'supporting' stage of the cycle, for example in formative assessment. However, technology offers equal benefits in the management of assessment: our pages on submission, marking and production of feedback explain more.
Key to our understanding of technology-enhanced assessment and feedback is that it extends or adds value to the strategies, processes, procedures and systems used throughout the assessment life cycle.
So we use the term technology-enhanced assessment and feedback in this guide rather than e-assessment (which can sometimes be understood as onscreen testing) to highlight that technology can add value to assessment and feedback in many different ways.
You may also want to know more about electronic management of assessment (EMA). EMA refers to technology used to support the electronic submission, assessment of, and feedback on, assignments. Find out more from our introductory guide to EMA.
Our quick guide to improving student assessment provides a useful round up of our research into technology in assessment and feedback that has underpinned this guide for FE and skills.
Further education (FE) and skills covers a wide range of courses and qualifications with markedly different cultures and approaches to assessment and feedback.
Our e-assessment survey report (pdf) published in May 2016 researched use of e-testing, technology-supported formative assessment, e-portfolios and tracking systems across the sector. From this, we know most FE and skills organisations are using technology in assessment on a day-to-day basis, but the impact is limited.
Only just over half (56%) of organisations have a strategy for technology-enhanced assessment. This makes widespread adoption of technology-supported assessment harder to achieve.
57% have had a good or very good experience of e-assessment but the digital capabilities of teachers and learners were still a barrier.
Financial constraints and time for training and support are also concerns. So too are cultural issues; let’s face it, it’s often easier to stay as you are than make changes to something as important as assessment.
Nonetheless, where technology is combined with support and training for staff, assessors and learners, organisations report significant transformative benefits. These benefits need to be shared more widely.
Produced in conjunction with our FELTAG partners, our 2016 report on the evolution of FELTAG, captures a picture of a sector in the process of change.
A range of technologies in assessment-for-learning strategies are clearly making an impact. An example is screencast feedback, which is proving more efficient and effective than traditional methods:
“Evidence so far shows that this takes tutors no more time than traditional written feedback but offers the opportunity for richer, more dialogue-driven comment.”
Developing screen casting as a tool for formative and summative feedback (pdf) Oldham College (with Edge Hill University)
Equally, training providers are finding benefits in e-portfolios, such as tracking learners’ progress and flexibility over when and where assessment takes place:
“80% of those currently using e-portfolios said they give them greater visibility of student progress... 69% found being able to work in more places a key benefit.”
City and Guilds' survey of training provider organisations (2015) (pdf)
Many organisations find they can improve the learner’s experience through technology, especially the timely feedback provided by e-testing:
“The students achieve and have a good experience. They particularly like assessments that have immediate results.”
Examination administrator, large FE college
Nonetheless, over half of respondents felt their organisation’s staff lacked digital literacy, and a similar number in the 2015 City and Guilds training provider survey (pdf) spoke of the need for training in e-portfolios.
Listen to our interview with Jayne Holt, assistant principal for learning services from Walsall College, on how they are using technology to meet challenges and provide a quality experience for their learners.
With many organisations in our survey (pdf) expecting to increase technology-enhanced assessment and feedback by 2020, it is vital to know how to use it well.
Bringing teachers and learners together to work on digital literacy is a great way to start. Our research tells us that learners need assessment literacy (ie understanding of, and engagement with, the purpose of assessment) as well as digital literacy. Working together can help learners understand assessment processes better and enable teachers to see assessment from the learner’s perspective.
Case study: ISA Training
ISA Training in south Wales involves trainers, assessors and learners in digital literacy training sessions.
Our research shows there are distinct gains from integrating EMA systems. These include:
- Savings in administrative time and costs
- Avoidance of duplication
- Improved transparency for learners
- Effective tracking of learners’ progress across different locations, increasing the potential for improved results
- Faster response to issues
In the section on learning analytics, our guide to EMA explains how the data collected in EMA systems can help you spot learners in need of support.
Some organisations have invested in bespoke systems. Larger colleges working with many different awarding and accrediting organisations are more likely to need to develop their own in-house solutions.
Case study: Bedford College
Bedford College, a large FE college, developed an in-house EMA tool to track progress against BTEC, City and Guilds and A/AS level qualifications in a single system fully integrated with Moodle.
Establishing 'digital-as-the-norm' can also be key to changing an organisation’s practice.
Case study: Walsall College
Before implementing end-to-end EMA systems, Walsall College ensured all staff were 'tech-savvy'.
Case study: South West College
South West College, Northern Ireland, prepared for online delivery and assessment of courses by closing the college for one week.
Further resources to help you
- Our guide to changing assessment and feedback practice offers strategies for engaging and supporting staff through change
- Examples of good practice from an awarding organisation: CCEA case studies of innovative practices for teaching and assessment in NIFE
In a fast-changing world, teachers and trainers with knowledge and experience of technology are better placed to respond to curriculum change. Using digital tools in their own continuing professional development (CPD) can give staff a head start. Watch our video on CPD with e-portfolios at Thanet College.
With increasing pressures on their time, teachers and trainers have found new technologies both efficient and effective when it comes to developing and assessing learners’ skills. Here are some examples:
Case study: Portland College
Effective use of cloud services and storage for e-portfolios can also prove beneficial for learners and teachers with time constraints. This benefit is felt particularly in work-based learning and apprenticeships.
Case study: Barnsley College
Apprentices at Barnsley College on level 3 and 4 diplomas in digital learning design use Google Sites as an e-portfolio tool.
Social media can prompt a richer dialogue around developing work while also improving learners’ employability. Learners using blogging and networking tools, for example, can obtain feedback from experts and potential employers through online links to their work.
Case study: Basingstoke College of Technology
BTEC media production students at Basingstoke College of Technology gain a head start through continuous engagement with feedback from peers and industry professionals.
Online assessments can be more accessible for learners and cost-effective for organisations (although accommodating large groups of learners can be problematic). Those benefitting especially are learners in dispersed workplace environments. However, the potential is greater than is often realised; don’t just assume e-testing means multiple choice questions, as the BTL and City and Guilds case study (pdf) on functional skills reveals.
Further resources to help you
- Our guide to feedback and feed forward covers a range of ways in which technology can transform feedback
- Our guide to making assessments accessible explains how to ensure assessment design and e-testing provision is inclusive
- Our guide to assessment, feedback and submission with mobile devices has case studies on assessment with mobiles
- Our showcase contains a range of case studies from Scotland
- Read more: Case studies of good practice from the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning (CAVTL), Ofsted, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, and the Institute of Education
For most learners, technology-enhanced assessment and feedback offer more benefits than challenges. However, some learners lack confidence in using technology in assessment and many more lack understanding of how to use technology effectively to evidence their learning. Improving the digital capabilities and literacies of learners remains a high priority for FE and skills providers. Our detailed guide provides models, ideas and resources.
Many would argue it’s in the rich variety of assessment-for-learning techniques that technology really comes into its own. By using quizzes, apps, online polling tools, and by capturing digital evidence in the form of audio, video and image files, learners gain control over their own learning and are motivated to work independently.
Case study: Loughborough College
Using e-portfolios, learners can assemble their own evidence against assessment criteria, providing assessors and employers with a richer picture of who they are, and what they can do. Selecting and presenting evidence for e-portfolios brings in additional skills of communication, presentation, evaluation and decision-making, all of which add value to learners’ employability.
Case study: Swindon College
Students of art, computing, business, media, sports therapy and education from levels 1 to degree level are among those benefitting from Swindon College’s introduction of Mahara e-portfolios.
Further resources to help you
- Our guide assessment for learning: a tool for benchmarking your practice in FE and skills is a hands-on tool to help you to self-assess your assessment practices
- Our short guide to improving student assessment contains a range of useful resources and videos
- Our short guide to getting started with e-portfolios explains how this technology can do more than record achievements
We continue to support our partners in the FELTAG coalition to advance the use of technology in learning, teaching and assessment. Please contact your Jisc account manager or senior co-design manager Lisa Gray firstname.lastname@example.org to share your examples of effective practice.