What Exactly Is E-Assessment?
Educators and assessment consultants are taking a long, hard look at trends in e-assessment. The global COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the goalposts for almost every human activity you can think of. Deciding on the role that e-assessments assume in education has a degree of urgency as a result.
The paradigm shift has revealed glaring gaps in digital assessment processes and standards. User satisfaction is uneven, too. This article will give an overview of where current challenges lie in the world of e-assessment.
What Is E-Assessment?
E-assessment covers any use of information technology to assess student performance and measure what a student has learned. The chief problem is that even the most advanced online systems are inadequate. They can seldom provide a fail-safe, robust guarantee against academic dishonesty.
This, in itself, makes a mockery of any e-assessment performed.
Pen-and-paper modes of assessment in a physical classroom and in the presence of a real, live invigilator are fast becoming anachronistic.
There are, of course, many learning management systems, such as Sakai and Canvas. They include remote examination components designed to accommodate formative and summative assessments. Such systems are often tailored to higher education requirements,
Software platforms such as Proctortrack are innovative. (Proctoring is another way of saying invigilating.) They offer a method of:
- verifying student identity
- ensuring browser lockdown
- monitoring student activity during the online assessment
They allow invigilator intervention where necessary.
Yet, the use of such software is by no means widespread. Added to the conundrum is the patent lack of preparedness of most online teaching programs. Glaring inadequacies have already been identified by educators and students alike at the levels of:
- adaptation to the online teaching environment
- differing expectations as regards course modules and assignments on the part of teachers and students
- technical issues that are not limited to poor internet connections
Online Learning Platforms
Online learning platforms have existed for many years. Yet, they have largely been confined to adult learning programs and webinars on specific topics.
These are, for the most part, voluntary. They may or may not be free, and they may or may not involve formal examinations at the end of the courses.
FutureLearn, Coursera, and FUN MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have been successful. They are a way for adults to complete CPD goals or to learn more about subjects that interest them.
MOOCs do not cater to the particular needs of K12 (Kindergarten through Year 12) students, though. K12 students need far more encouragement and motivation to learn than goal-focused adults.
Types of E-Assessment
Formative and summative assessments are tests and quizzes during and at the end of a course of study. Ensuring that they are in fact assessing the real knowledge and skills of the students in question presents challenges. Diagnostic assessments have proven more problematic in the digital environment.
Teachers do diagnostic assessments beforehand to assess the student’s weaknesses, strengths, skills, and, knowledge. The results give the educator a basis from which to work to prepare their teaching pattern. Diagnostic assessments also serve as a benchmark to track progress — how much the student learns — throughout the course.
After periodic formative assessments, students receive constructive feedback from the teachers. They also get guidance on how to improve their performance. Formative assessments typically do not count towards the student’s final course result.
Summative assessments do count towards the final course result. They are what most of us call “exams”.
Is There A Market for Online Exam Software?
The global online exam software market was already poised for strong growth before the COVID-19 pandemic. Projections from 2019 revenue of USD 4.5 billion expect that figure to almost double to USD 8.85 billion by 2027, using a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.53%.
During the pandemic existing upward trends in e-assessment intensified. The current trend looks set to outstrip forecasts.
The pandemic has brought the issue of security of question papers into sharper relief. The Verified Market Research report explores this issue in some detail.
Now, there is one more hurdle for educators and school boards, and systems to clear. It is that of choosing from among the many different software offerings available.
It is a competitive landscape. There is no shortage of quality solutions that educational institutions will have to invest in so that they remain viable. It also introduces the imperative of bringing teachers up to speed on the tech skills they need to work with the system.
Students are less likely to struggle with understanding the software. But distance learning introduced because of COVID-19 restrictions has uncovered considerable failings.
The underlying assumption is that the use of certain software for e-assessments will solve all bottlenecks. This is not true and is a perspective that looks at only half the problem.
Not everyone has access to a good internet connection. Not all students have access to a computer. This is the case in even the most connected countries in Europe and developed countries.
There might still be problems, even if we assume that
- all students within a given group have computers
- all students have a good internet connection
- all students have access to the software, and the skill to use it as intended
Some EU institutions have had to make candidates for certain jobs retake the entry examination. The reason? Because the platform failed to work for certain candidates and not others.
This kind of time-wasting within an educational environment would be demotivational and ill-advised.
The matter of restructuring traditional assessments needs focused attention. Assessments have to adapt to the digital environment. They also have to produce the almost instantaneous results that students and job applicants expect these days.
This will take an enormous coordination effort on the part of educational institutions. The problem with this idea is that very few have had any experience in this area.
Mistakes are bound to occur unless they gain insights from those who already have experience in the matter. That would be professional training institutions. They are now the largest segment in the online exam software market.
Types of E-Assessment Products
There are two types of e-assessment and examination software:
- On-premises software
- Cloud-based software
Organizations that need to protect sensitive data currently favor the on-premises option. Cloud-based software solutions could well be cheaper than the on-premises route.
In the future, they are likely to appeal because of their greater degree of versatility. (Imagine curriculum changes or changes in the number of students on a course). Future cloud-based software could even end up being more secure than on-site systems.
Are We There Yet?
E-assessments have made inroads into the traditional methods of testing students. E-assessments help shortlist candidates for certain positions in commerce and industry. Yet, there is a long way to go before a 100% digital learning and assessment environment becomes the rule.
Learning/Content Management Systems (LCMS) build and manage teaching materials for amalgamated (distance or classroom-based) learning. E-assessment is integral to every LCMS. Until LCMSs have overcome all the hitches and glitches experienced to date, e-assessment will not assume its full stature.
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