Most of us have had formal or informal feedback throughout our lives. The way in which we have been assessed very likely has had a fundamental effect on our learning and career progression. Assessment is one of the most important parts of learning and teaching and whether institutions get this right or wrong has a huge impact on students’ lives and careers.
Jisc’s new guide Effective Assessment in a Digital Age demonstrates how technology can significantly improve the experience of assessment and feedback. As many higher education institutions are reviewing their assessment strategies, Jisc is looking at the transformative effects of technology that increase learner autonomy, enhances the quality of the assessment experience and improves teaching efficiency.
“Why do we still insist that students, who mostly use technologies such as laptops and mobile phones when researching their assignments, sit down with pen and paper and write long essays when they are assessed?” asks Ros Smith, the author of the guide. “This one size fits all view of assessment still dominates. Perhaps instead we should be thinking much more creatively and be inspired by what technology can do. There are huge benefits to be gained, for example, in giving students choice over assignment formats, allowing them either to write a 5000 word essay on a topic or to put together a video or audio piece that explores different points of view. Students disadvantaged by traditional written assessments will clearly benefit from this approach but everyone gains if the use of different media prompts deeper thought around the topic.”
In addition, educational researchers since the 1990s have increasingly argued that assessment should be used to support learning rather than just test and certify achievement. This has shifted the emphasis from the teacher to the learner, as David Nicol, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Strathclyde, explains: “We tend to think of feedback as something a teacher provides, but if students are to become independent lifelong learners, they have to become better at judgingtheir own work. If you really want to improve learning, get students to give one another feedback. Giving feedback is cognitively more demanding than receiving feedback. That way, you can accelerate learning.”
Technology provides ways of enabling students to monitor the standards of their own work. The technology can be designed for the purpose (such ason-screen assessment delivery systems or originality checking software) or adopted from a pool of widely available generic and often open source software and familiar hardware (such as digital cameras or handheld devices). Sarah Davies, Jisc e-Learning Programme Manager, says: “Technologies such as voting systems, online discussion forums, wikis and blogs allow practitioners to monitor levels of understanding and thus make better use of face-to-face contact time. Delivery of feedback through digital audio and video, or screen-capture software, may also save time and improve learners’ engagement with feedback.”
Effective Assessment in a Digital Age outlines some of the key benefits
- better dialogue and communication that can overcome distance and time constraints
- immediate and learner-led assessment through interactive online tests and tools in the hand (such as voting devices and internet connected mobile phones)
- authenticity through online simulations and video technologies and risk-free rehearsal of real-world skills in professional and vocational education
- fast and easy processing and transferring of data
- improved thinking and ownership through peer assessment, collection of evidence and reflection on achievements in e-portfolios
- making visible skills and learning processes that were previously difficult to measure
- a personal quality to feedback, even in large-group contexts
In all our work, we support openness, sustainable technology and making innovative choices. In this spirit of progression, Jisc publications will only be available in digital formats in the future. Printed copies of Effective Assessment in a Digital Age can be ordered free until end of October 2010.