Amazon Web Services: digital innovation in higher educationThe opportunity to drive an assessment revolution

The opportunity to drive an assessment revolution

As institutions rethink what assessment should look like in the digital age, technology can provide answers

Technology offers universities the opportunity to transform assessment to make it more personalised, inclusive and embedded throughout courses.

A Times Higher Education webinar, held in partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS), asked experts from academia and industry how assessment can be adapted for the 21st century.

Chair Ashton Wenborn, special projects deputy editor at THE, said that the discussion came amid a growing demand for personalisation and lifelong learning. To adapt to this new normal, she said institutions were looking to future-proof assessment and take advantage of technological innovation.

Phil Cardew, deputy vice-chancellor (academic) at Leeds Beckett University, said that in the past 18 months universities had been forced to re-evaluate assessment processes.

“Not only how we assess students, but the ways in which we assess them. Not just the mechanics, but the philosophy as well,” he said. However, he stressed that the “pedagogical advantage” of any changes must be considered.

Jude Sheeran, principal for international education and research technology at AWS, agreed that pedagogy should be “driving technology to drive outcomes”.

He said that institutions were generally seeking “more granular, more frequent, more remote and more automated assessment”.

“Covid forced this realisation that there are different, and in some cases, better, ways of doing things,” he said. “What’s really interesting is that the disruption in the field of assessment is having a knock-on effect to the way we think about how to teach and learn.”

Ishan Kolhatkar, UK general manager at Inspera Assessment, said that the pandemic had “opened the door” to new possibilities such as personalised assessment.

“I think the smart institutions are the ones who are going to say, ‘let’s consider all of these [possibilities] as a group – not just faculty, not just IT, not just learning and teaching. As a group, let’s consider what’s there’,” Kolhatkar said. “But then not leave everything out there. Actually, say, ‘at our institution, here is the blend that does work’.”

Kirsten Bartlett, director of learning and teaching at the University of Sheffield, said that creative assessment solutions had to be backed with faculty training and investment in digital infrastructure.

“I would really like to move forward with some of these great ideas,” she said. “But without that infrastructure, I’ve got a real battle on my hands to persuade staff to persevere with this and to actually do it.”

Andrea Jimenez Dalmaroni, head of the physics education research group at Cardiff University, said that it was essential for assessment “to be absorbed in the teaching process”.

“Assessment shouldn’t be seen as something done at the end of a module. The idea of traditional assessment, where we measure what has been learned, is an idea of the past,” she said. “Assessment now is incorporated as part of project-based learning.”

Simon Walker, academic lead at the UCL Arena Centre for Research-based Education at University College London, said that although group work was notoriously difficult to mark, collaborative, team-based assessments would be “really key” in the future.

He also pointed out that different assessment methods had a positive impact on the attainment gap. “When you diversify assessments, that’s been shown to reduce the attainment gap,” he said. “So that’s another clear argument for having well-designed, diverse assessments.”

The panel:

  • Kirsten Bartlett, director of learning and teaching, University of Sheffield
  • Phil Cardew, deputy vice-chancellor (academic), Leeds Beckett University
  • Andrea Jimenez Dalmaroni, head of physics education research group, Cardiff University
  • Ishan Kolhatkar, UK general manager, Inspera Assessment
  • Jude Sheeran, principal for international education and research technology, Amazon Web Services
  • Simon Walker, academic lead, UCL Arena Centre for Research-based Education, University College London
  • Ashton Wenborn, special projects deputy editor, Times Higher Education (chair)

Find out more about Amazon Web Services’ work in the public sector.

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