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Call to scrap pen and paper exams by 2025: Five ways to improve assessment for all

A report by education technology not-for-profit, Jisc, calls for an overhaul of exams at colleges and universities, suggesting five ways to improve assessment for all

A new report by Jisc suggests that assessment in the UK needs to be smarter, faster, and more accessible by embracing technology.

Written by Jisc with input from sector experts, the report outlines five principles and five targets for UK colleges and universities to follow over the next five years in order to digitise assessment.

This report highlights an important opportunity for improving education in the UK. If used well as part of good assessment design, then emerging technologies can transform the way students are evaluated so that it is more relevant to their careers, more accessible and more secure, while promoting wellbeing and removing some of the administrative burden on teaching staff.

Change outlined in the report is already taking place in some areas, as highlighted by case studies including from:

  • Bolton College, which is extending its automatic marking to include natural language processing.
  • Preston’s College in Lancashire is using immersive technology by way of a 360° camera in the dance studio
  • Newcastle University is moving towards digital exams.

However, although there are strong examples of digitised assessment in the UK, these are the exception, not the rule. Elsewhere in the world, the use of technology in assessment is more established. For example, in India, the use of biometric data makes it virtually impossible for one student to impersonate another.

Between December 2018 and August 2019, the Indian National Testing Agency assessed almost five million candidates for entrance to education establishments. Each student uses an e-card with their thumbprint and photo to access the examination room and a photo and thumbprint taken on the day is attached to the attendance sheet which must be signed by the student.

Five targets to transform assessment by 2025

  1. Authentic – There will have been a shift in focus from acquiring knowledge rooted in a particular curriculum or occupational area to acquiring transferable skills, and these will be assessed in a more realistic way.
  2. Accessible – The design of assessments will have moved to an accessibility-first principle that allows the same assessment to be delivered in multiple ways depending on the needs of the learner.
  3. Appropriately automated – A balance will have been established between automated and human marking and feedback that delivers the maximum learning benefit to students.
  4. Continuous – Data and analytics will be in widespread use to assess the effectiveness and impact of continuous assessment and to plan strategies across the whole organisation.
  5. Secure – There will have been a general adoption of authoring detection and biometric authentication for identity and remote proctoring.

Underpinning all the targets is the need for a priority focus on staff digital skills development, allowing teachers more time to experiment and enabling more confidence to implement innovative new approaches to assessment.

The Jisc report, The Future of Assessment: five principles, five targets for 2025, contains advice and guidance to help organisations improve assessment. The work is part of Jisc’s Education 4.0 vision to explore how emerging technology may change education.

Assessment is also high on the agenda of the government’s Edtech Strategy, with “reducing teachers’ marking workload” identified as one of the ten key educational challenges.

There’s real appetite for change in the UK education sector and many individuals are already exploring innovative new approaches. But widespread transformation doesn’t happen overnight and requires a change to the way data about assessment is collected and managed.

Just as importantly, staff will need to be given time and space to experiment and develop confidence with new technology so it can be used to enhance assessment.

Andy McGregor, director of edtech at Jisc

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