In February 2020 a Jisc report concluded that the archaic pen and paper assessment process needed a technological overhaul by 2025. Little did we all know that the pandemic would necessitate that switch much sooner.
Traditional exams have been abandoned for hundreds of thousands of students this summer and universities have moved at pace to transform the assessment processes - alongside teaching and learning provision.
A new report from Jisc, Emerge Education and QAA (the quality assurance agency for higher education), Assessment rebooted, explores how six universities have faced up to the challenge of updating assessment during Covid-19 lockdown, demonstrating how the sector can effectively use technology and innovation to transform exams now and into the future.
For example, the University of London changed the process for 40,000 students sitting around 500 exams in 160 countries from solely paper-based and in-person exams to digital testing, which included digital proctoring.
Other innovative assessment ideas featured in the report include group exams where only one participant is human, while the remaining bots are matched to have complementary personality traits.
Though the report is future-gazing, it also outlines immediately achievable improvements. For example: keyboards replacing pens, multiple cohorts and assessment points, improved plagiarism detection and fraud prevention.
Although positive about making assessment faster, smarter and more accessible, the report acknowledges that the ‘quick fixes’ put in place by universities very recently are not necessarily a long-term solution.
The rapid response by higher education providers could though, inspire a faster transformation when it comes to creating the longer-term changes to the assessment process. The need to improve currently available tech has become more obvious, as Andrew Turner, associate pro-vice-chancellor, teaching and learning at Coventry University, explains:
“There’s a need to start to look at digitisation of the exam process and delivery to modernise the process. I think it’s ridiculous that we’ve still got students handwriting exams in this day and age. But in the UK I think there’s a bit of a gap in HE for software and for products that support that process.”
Chris Cobb, pro-vice chancellor and deputy chief executive at the University of London writes in the report:
“The spread of the COVID-19 virus has had a profound effect on so many different aspects of our lives and work. In higher education, the impact on assessment was swift and profound. Consequently, as well as considering the future, our report now also addresses the here and now and includes case studies of emerging institutional approaches to manage the short term as well as drawing on the QAA’s useful checklist of reflective questions on moving to online assessment”
The report also shares a set of three minimum requirements for a well-designed digital assessment system in 2030, which needs to be:
- Relevant: Enabling universities to go beyond traditional forms of assessment, making use of innovative assessment methods too impractical to deliver without digital tools.
- Adaptable: Effective in addressing the needs of a growing and diverse student population, a range of providers and any number of geographies.
- Trustworthy: Based on solid foundations of academic integrity, security, privacy and fairness.
Sue Attewell, head of edtech at Jisc, said:
“Coronavirus has of course had a huge impact on the sector, leaving a question mark over how students are assessed both now and in the future. Our report, "the future of assessment” demonstrates the need to embrace emerging technologies through our Education 4.0 vision and shift to digital exams by 2025, and now it’s being suggested that marking physical exams and books might not even be safe for staff.
“It’s not a change we could have predicted, and it’s important that both staff and students are well supported during and after the pandemic. Both need to be given time and space to experiment and develop confidence with new technology, so it can be used to enhance assessment in the near future. An overhaul of the way students are assessed will have immeasurable benefits for staff and students alike, making the process more flexible and accessible for everyone."
Alexander Iosad, Head of engagement, Emerge Education said:
“Effective assessment is central to delivering on the promise of higher education, but, given the high stakes involved, it has long been an area where technology adoption was slow. What’s needed a shift in mindset from technology enhancing assessment to one where technology is central to the way it is delivered. This is why our working group chaired by Chris Cobb of the University of London, which brought together senior higher education leaders, sector bodies like QAA and Association for Learning Technology (ALT), and leading entrepreneurs, set out to develop a pragmatic and positive vision for digital assessment in the year 2030.
"The sector response to COVID-19 shows what can be achieved when universities and technology providers work together, even under huge time pressures. There is plenty of innovation happening in the assessment space, and we hope that with this report we can inspire university leaders to rethink how digital assessment can better serve the needs of their students and retain their trust, while at the same time sharing specific practical insights for entrepreneurs on how they can work with the sector most effectively.”
The new report comes as part of a series that will explore the impact that lockdown will have on the education sector. The series is part of Jisc’s Education 4.0 vision, to transform the future of education with advanced technology.