Disruptions from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have heralded many changes to the way we live our lives, including how qualifications are delivered and awarded to students.
Among the changes has been the wider adoption of remote assessment and remote invigilation, as many assessments are unable to take place face-to-face. We have received questions and feedback from awarding organisations, learning providers and students about the role we have played in this so far.
From the outset, we encouraged awarding organisations delivering vocational and technical qualifications to think creatively and to innovate. And they did.
According to a survey we conducted last year, awarding organisations introduced more remote assessment and remote invigilation than any other form of adaptation. Remote assessment is where the student is assessed or judged by an assessor who is in a different location. For example, via live audio or video streaming. Remote invigilation is where the student is observed or supervised by an invigilator while they complete an assessment, which is usually taken online.
We have now seen a range of approaches. Some awarding organisations have rolled out fully functioning remote assessment or remote invigilation solutions, while others have needed to take a more staggered approach.
It is encouraging to see how hard awarding organisations are working to overcome some of the challenges experienced when introducing remote assessment and remote invigilation. For example, in response to the challenges of remotely assessing practical skills, one awarding organisation secured specialist camera equipment and loaned it to providers to observe assessments. The camera is put in the room with a student taking the practical assessment and can be controlled remotely by an assessor. This effectively enables the assessor to "be in the room" by controlling the position of the camera lens.
Some providers and students have embraced remote assessment and remote invigilation, appreciating its flexibility and the chance to move forward with their learning. Others have encountered challenges such as technical issues and accessing the required equipment. In response, several awarding organisations now conduct remote invigilation through web-based applications, so that students can avoid downloading software that may be incompatible with their devices.
We continue to provide support to awarding organisations exploring alternatives such as remote assessment and invigilation, but we are clear that such arrangements should not undermine the value of the qualifications.
For example, an awarding organisation got in touch with us to discuss a few scenarios it felt created a barrier to remote invigilation. One such scenario was how some assessments were 3 hours long and students often required supervised comfort breaks. It was not clear, however, how such breaks could happen during remotely invigilated assessments, especially if the students couldn’t be monitored while they were on a break.
We worked through this scenario, among others, at a workshop and suggested a range of options for further exploration. For example, we suggested breaking the assessment into different parts so that students could have a comfort break once they have completed the first half of the assessment, and before they were ready to access the second part separately. That awarding organisation is now piloting a remote invigilation approach, based on our feedback, that it hadn't before considered possible.
We appreciate that remote assessment and remote invigilation aren’t the answer to every problem. They are tools that, when used correctly and in conjunction with others, enable awarding organisations to ensure assessments are carried out properly and under controlled and supervised conditions. We have seen some examples, where the addition of a second camera recording the assessment from a different angle, have enhanced an awarding organisation’s ability to identify and investigate malpractice, thus maintaining the integrity of a qualification. When done well, remote assessment and remote invigilation can also bring convenience for providers and for students, enabling assessments to take place at a time that suits an individual, as well as results to be awarded that may otherwise have been delayed.
We expect remote assessment and remote invigilation will be here to stay after the pandemic, so we have further work to do and we recognise these adaptations may have unexpected impacts on the student experience or the validity of assessments.
We have seen genuine flexibility, ingenuity, and resilience of much of the awarding sector over the last year. We would encourage more awarding organisations to lead the way to test and implement new approaches to qualification delivery. And we are keen to continue to play our part and give our support for innovative responses to the issues to learning and assessment brought by the pandemic. We all have a role in future-proofing assessment for the benefit of students.
Emma Scott, Director of Operations, Vocational and Technical Qualifications