This vision for the future of HE has been created by Rasmus Blok and Steffen Skovfoged of UNIwise, for the learning and teaching reimagined initiative. It's not what we think the future of higher education will - or even should - look like, but just one possible scenario to inspire (possibly scare) and provoke discussion.
This content represents an imagined scenario and is set in the future
Celebrating the ten-year anniversary of 2020
Whatever else has changed in the past decade – and let’s face it, a lot has – the human animal still likes a nice, round number.
It’s why we paid special attention to the 20th vaccine, the 3 billionth active TikTok user, the last white rhino. It’s why, back when we still used cash, we preferred to pay £5 rather than £4.99, seeing it as the more honest price.
So, in October 2030, on the ten-year anniversary of the start of the pandemic, who could really blame us for treating it as an opportunity for reflection on the decade that was?
Before what is now known as the open-book Spring of 2020, exams and assessments comprised universities’ and students’ most high-stakes activities.
For so many students, it felt as though everything – their degrees, their jobs, their futures – was riding on a few three-hour papers sat in stuffy exam halls, from which they would emerge, minds racing, hands aching, craving feedback on their work.
As we now know, the pandemic of 2020 allowed exams and assessments to evolve into more than high-consequence gatekeepers to progression. Freed from any particular time and space, exams and assessments have been transformed by the switch to digital accelerated by the events of 2020, and, in turn, have transformed higher education.
One major benefit of the switch to digital assessment is that it allows more diverse and authentic assessment that prepares students for what they’re going to do next.
This fact had, of course, already been recognised before the pandemic hit, with many universities, particularly those with a focus on the arts, using audio and video capabilities to assess their students. But now, as trainee doctors examine patients using VR, that digital allows universities to test skills and knowledge in a more realistic way has become undeniable.
Technological advances have also helped to put the question of academic integrity to bed. Students’ digital footprints prevent cheating, as they provide writing style and behavioural comparisons for students’ assessments, and invigilated proctoring as we knew it in 2020 is long a thing of the past.
We used to speak of an arms race between technology that enabled cheating and technology that stopped it. Where the idea of something like internet-enabled contact lenses might have kept lecturers up at night in 2020, we’ve now adopted a way of testing that allows people to use the sources at hand, as they would in their jobs.
Technology isn’t slowing down. Authentic assessments recognise that fact.
It used to be said that the curriculum tells you what the faculty is doing, while assessments tell you what students are doing. The past ten years have seen that adage expand as faculty and students become more aligned: assessments tell you how the students and the university are doing.
We now have access to data like never before, data that underlines that assessments are a form of feedback. Offering exams on-demand has allowed students to choose to be assessed – with personalised assessments – when they think they’re ready.
Continual assessment has been embraced: students often rated themselves as doing poorly but having access to more assessments and feedback gives them a truer picture of their actual levels of competence.
Similarly, this data allows universities to make evidence-based decisions about the shape, format and type of assessments used, which given that 80% of universities never returned to on-campus teaching, is more important for student satisfaction and retention than ever.
Send us your visions
This is one of a number of visions of the future of HE, created as part of our learning and teaching reimagined programme.
We’d love to hear your visions for how learning and teaching in higher education will change over the next few years.