New and improved university exams have enhanced assessment for disabled students, those with mental health challenges, and students suffering from digital poverty, as well as building the digital skills needed by students for future jobs - finds new report.
A new report, ‘Rethinking assessment’, from Jisc and Emerge Education describes ‘a widespread explosion of experimentation' since the pandemic began, with universities now offering exams that are flexible, adaptable, and relevant to students. It’s a far cry from what one contributor describes as ‘sitting in a sports hall for three hours’
Andy McGregor, Jisc’s director of edtech, says:
“We’ve seen a flurry of just-in-time innovation in assessment as teachers have responded to the pandemic. It would be a shame if that just disappeared as life approaches normality. If universities can find the time to prioritise assessment redesign, we can deliver significant benefits to students, staff and ultimately employers, by providing a digitally skilled workforce of the future.”
“One thing we've learned from the pandemic is that there's a lot of creativity within us. We can do things differently, as a sector and as individuals. We need to make sure we take the best from that rather than reverting. Just because we can get everyone back in the exam halls again doesn’t mean we should.”
An improvement for disabled students
Rethinking assessment, shows that the flexibility and support requested by disabled students for years was put in place in a short space of time because of the pandemic.
The University of Cambridge students’ union’s disabled students’ group is campaigning for the continuation of digital assessment post-pandemic, arguing that:
“Diversified assessment, such as coursework and 24+ hour exams have been revolutionary for disabled students. We risk slipping back into the old default of three-hour, handwritten, closed-book exams if we can't show that student support is there.”
A Sheffield student notes in the report:
“They have allowed 24-hour time slots for exams, which has been very helpful. As a dyslexic student, it takes me a lot longer to read and process written information and so this time has allowed me to show my knowledge to the best of my ability without having to panic about a two-hour time limit.”
Findings also show that ‘exam hall anxiety’ has reduced, thanks to online assessment, which has particularly helped neurodiverse students.
Tackling the challenge
Describing 2021 as a ‘bridging year’ between last year’s frantic emergency response to digital delivery, and next year’s emerging ‘normal’, the report outlines an opportunity to reimagine assessment across the higher education sector. It suggests a redesign process should build in adaptability, so that no student is at a disadvantage through no fault of their own. It should also include carefully designed security, enabling collaboration rather than collusion.
Nic Newman, Emerge Education partner says:
“Of course, delivering this transformation will require significant resources, and universities are still dealing with huge changes. Taking the time to reimagine assessment will require senior management to make it a top priority. The positive stories in this report are shining examples that illustrate the wider benefits of overhauling assessment, and point to an opportunity for universities to create a competitive advantage for themselves in the short and long term."
Chris Cobb, chief executive of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music says:
“The rapid drive to digitise assessment has raised opportunities and challenges in equal measure, in parts making assessment more relevant, adaptable and trustworthy. We hope this report serves as a timely manner of lessons to be learned for the future of assessment, and indeed, education as a whole”.