Optimising digital assessment for quality education outcomes
Assessment sits at the heart of the learning process, as it provides observable evidence of learning, determines student progress and demonstrates understanding of the curriculum.Subscribe
More broadly, it could be said that an institution, culture or society depicts its conceptualisation of learning and ideal future citizens by how it creates and uses assessment.
Recently, many scholars in the field have been warning that current assessment practices have forgotten their core purpose to support learning.
Rather, assessment is often seen to be preoccupied with qualifications and narrow achievements, and critiques of current assessment systems abound, from both scholars and dissatisfied students.
These critiques have propelled an imperative for reforms, which is backed by a growing understanding of what constitutes effective feedback and how to track and measure learning.
Both formative and summative assessment are deeply embedded within current educational systems.
Recognising that both types serve distinct educational purposes, it is also important to note they are not necessarily exclusive processes and are often intertwined in teaching and learning activities.
Technology enhanced assessment may offer some alternatives to suggestions that these types of assessment may be coordinated to provide more useful feedback.
The possible benefits that digital technologies offer to learning, and specifically to assessment, are well documented. Becoming equally apparent are the challenges and threats that they may also bring.
This is particularly the case with their use in assessment, which relies upon the collection and analysis of data, plays a critical role in determining learners' futures and raises a number of ethical issues.
The benefits that technology may offer assessment is outlined as:
a) Provide immediate feedback
b) Potentially increase learners' autonomy, agency and self-regulation
c) Support for collaborative learning
d) Flexible and appropriate responses
e) Provide authenticity
f) Widen range of measurement
g) Improve student performance
h) Increase efficiency and reduce teachers' workloads
i) Improve assessment validity and reliability
j) Integrate formative and summative assessments
Barriers and Enablers
Innovation in assessment is a delicate matter whether technology is involved or not, and it is seen to be particularly risky in the area of summative assessment, which is publicly accountable, heavily controlled and has important consequences on the cohort of students undergoing assessment.
The obstacles specific to the wider adoption or spread of technology-enhanced assessment in particular have been documented by many scholars such as:
• Potential barriers to the adoption of technology-enhanced assessment practices
• Practitioner concerns about plagiarism detection and invigilation issues
• Difficulties in scalability and transferability of practices, particularly in higher education (HE), where different departments often have autonomous, separate working practices and cultures
• Concerns over reliability and validity of high-stakes assessment (such as how to ensure that all students receive equivalent tests if questions are selected at random from a question bank)
• User identity verification and security issues
• Lack of staff time and training for rethinking assessment strategies and how to use new technologies from a technological and pedagogical perspective
• Cost of investment - Implementing new technology systems requires significant investment in training, support and interoperability.
Additionally, some tools require large capital investment and infrastructure that many institutions do not want to prioritise (e.g. having enough computers for those taking exams for on-screen testing)
• Exam boards are highly concerned with ensuring standards are not affected
• Lack of policy leadership and system-wide imperatives
• Constraints within the exam system, particularly in secondary and FE sectors
• Lack of suitable physical spaces for technology enhanced assessment, which have not developed for the needs and purposes of technology-enhanced assessment
The following focal areas, in which digital technology could make significant changes to assessment include:
• The use of multiple forms of representation to enable learners to represent their learning in ways of their choice
• Developing new ways of assessing summative performance in different subjects
• Developing ways to capture learning skills, competences and dispositions that are less amenable to traditional assessment methods
• Developing ways of capturing peer interaction, group performance and collaboration
• The role and use of learning analytics and education data mining
Across and beyond the curriculum, digital technologies are changing what is being taught and learned, how that process happens and what students are expected to know and demonstrate.
These recommendations have been synthesised from themes gathered in the review while the Ministry of Education and related stakeholders must play keys roles in the proposed action plans such as:
• Cultivating new assessment practices based on principles and theories of learning.
• Developing new assessment tools that reflect pedagogical principles.
• Constructing new responses to the current emphasis on high-stakes summative assessment.
• Merging the activities involved in curriculum, instruction and assessment offers the opportunity for assessment to take a more central and regular role in learning.
• Investigating how digital technologies can support fairer, more equitable and democratised assessment methods.
• Responding to ethical challenges presented by the use of digital technologies in assessment.
• Considering new contexts relevant to assessment using digital technologies, including learners' lives and social, cultural, educational and technical backgrounds.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the University of Ghana