In an age where technology is part and parcel of everyday life, it may come as a surprise to discover that some sectors have yet to align themselves with the digital age. This includes mainstream education where, despite the proliferation of edtech, assessments continue to be carried out via paper-based methods. However, with large numbers of teachers citing high workload as a main reason for leaving the profession, could e-assessments relieve teachers of some of the time spent on marking?
Patrick Coates, director at International Skills UK and board member of The e-Assessment Association, will discuss how e-assessment is used in other sectors and why it could help transform education.
Technology is available to assess learners’ knowledge and then ascertain feedback as to how they have performed. It is used regularly in a whole range of vocational and professional areas where assessments are used to assess learners’ abilities and then provide an ongoing measurement of how they have improved over a period of time. It works in these sectors as there is typically a commercial reason to do it, perhaps it is charged for in a study programme, or in the vocational context where it is mandated and so funding is only received if learners’ progress can be demonstrated.
There are also many opportunities for using e-assessment for summative, or high stakes, end-point assessment to improve the examinations process. It has the potential for providing numerous benefits; such as, on-demand or test-when-ready, rather than on a specific test date; immediate feedback to candidates as to their final score, plus diagnostic feedback on what sections they could focus on to help improve, providing it does not impact on the integrity of the exam items.
Does this technology lend itself to be used in education in a formative capacity to help teachers, tutors and lecturers for formative assessment whilst reducing workload? The simple answer is yes. So why is it not being used on a wide scale?
I think the challenge with assessments is both delivering at scale and ensuring they are standardised to provide meaningful comparisons, I am not talking league tables here, but being able to compare performance amongst students and importantly improvement. It is very easy to give ‘quizzes’ to kids and see how they are doing, but is it possible to do something that is more structured? It could be done by teachers having a bank of tests, even small ones, to see if students understand what is being taught to them. If in a few minutes a teacher/tutor can prepare an e-test for students that is then taken online, then with instant feedback it can be really powerful. It is not just about an individual’s performance but also the entire group. If the whole class got the same question wrong then perhaps the topic needs to be revisited or be taught in a different way – this is feedback to the teacher not a tool to assess their effectiveness, though that potentially is a bi-product of this.
This is not necessarily limited to multiple choice/short answer type questions. Whilst currently human-grading of scanned exam scripts is common. The use of e-assessment could be extended to include computer-marking of essay, or constructed response questions. This would realistically only work with large volumes of tests as you would need up to 1000 marked scripts to programme the algorithm that then allows for the scripts to be auto-marked. Depending on the complexity of the algorithm used it would be able to give a breakdown of the different scoring areas. E.g. content, spelling, structure, etc. I am sure there are cynics about auto-marking of essays, but it does provide a standardized approach and if standard essays could be shared between institutions it could be really powerful.
The idea of using technology is to free up time that the teacher or tutor spends marking so that they are able to then spend as much time as possible actually engaged in teaching. This is not replacing them but providing them with a tool allowing them more time to do what they do best which is enthuse and engage their learners.
Applications for entries to The e-Assessment Awards close on 20 January 2017. For more information and to enter the awards, visit www.eassessmentawards.com