InsperaThe future of digital assessment: Covid-19, short courses and beyond

The future of digital assessment: Covid-19, short courses and beyond

Increasing demand for authentic assessment will enable the next stage of universities’ digital transformations

The huge challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has created for higher education have accelerated a shift to digital assessment, as students demand an end to pen-and-paper examinations.

Speaking at THE Live ANZ 2020, Sofie Emmertsen, executive education consultant at Inspera, a secure cloud-based e-assessment platform that covers the entire examination process, outlined the background to the step change and how the pandemic had affected the process, and speculated on the likely future, both through and beyond Covid-19.

Dr Emmertsen began by outlining the background to today’s emphasis on “authentic assessment” (methods to assess academic achievement via acquired knowledge and skills, as an alternative to standardised testing): a decade ago, students at the University of Oslo, soon backed by students in other Norwegian universities, pushed for computers rather than pen-and-paper exams. “Students were saying they just don’t have that skill,” she explained.

Dr Emmertsen also pointed out that what started as a response to a practical issue soon became something far more widespread and comprehensive. “That is the lesson we need to take for the Covid-19 response,” she added.

Over 2014 and 2015, Norwegian universities pioneered the National Project for Digital Exams, which digitised all exam processes from admittance to final grade and ensured sound digital marking and grading processes while maintaining fairness and integrity. Now, in 2020, 90 per cent of Norwegian examinations are computer-based. Likewise, BPP University, a professionally oriented UK institution, agreed with the idea that assessment must reflect what students will do in their professional lives and is nearing 100 per cent digital assessment. Meanwhile, research-oriented universities, such as the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, have also adopted authentic assessment, including for STEM subjects, despite these being trickier to digitise than essay-based examinations.

A decade since digital assessment became more widespread, Dr Emmertsen noted that the main driver for it – the shift away from pen and paper – remains the same, but that the challenges of Covid-19 have rapidly increased its adoption, as universities are forced to undergo rapid digital transformations. “The lockdown has turned everyone’s world upside down…some universities were better equipped than others,” she said.

Post-pandemic, Dr Emmertsen predicted that the key driver for the adoption of digital assessments will be the need for exams to mirror the real world and be “authentic”. This will likely have the additional benefit of enabling universities to offer more short courses that can address skill shortages, boost employment and enable lifelong learning. “In parallel, universities will figure out how to do this,” she said.

The entire session is available above and on the THE YouTube channel. You can also access all of the THE Live ANZ material here.

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