‘e-Assessment’ is the use of digital technologies to create, distribute, assess and provide feedback for formative, summative, diagnostic or self-assessment. Technological developments have afforded new ways of assessing student learning and providing feedback. This can deliver a greater variety of assessments, which can capture a wider range of skills and attributes that are not easily assessed in traditional methods (Joint Information Systems Committee, 2010).
As with all aspects of e-learning, planning and selecting the appropriate methods and technologies should be driven by the needs of the curriculum, learning outcomes and context. Selection of e-assessment technologies and tools will also be determined by cost, availability, technical requirements (such as internet access), interoperability with other systems (such as the student record system), usability and learner requirements (such as accessibility needs).
e-Assessment systems can reduce the workload of educators and administrative staff by streamlining administrative processes such as collating assessments for marking and quality assurance reviews, and disseminating grades and feedback (Joint Information Systems Committee 2010; Pachler et al. 2009). Assessment rubrics can be created to facilitate automated marking and to create reusable feedback comment repositories. Educators can also create question bank repositories, using systems such as QuestionMark Perception (http://www.questionmark.com) to create online examinations. Additional data can be stored with each question such as performance metrics to assist with selection and reuse (Ellaway and Masters, 2008).
Learner engagement can be improved through the variety of assessments that can be provided, as some learners will prefer certain types of assessment formats over others, but also they may benefit by learning new digital skills and practices. Learners can also be provided with a degree of flexibility, particularly with formative assessments, which may be completed at any time and at their own pace. Learners are able to receive immediate and adaptive feedback, in a variety of formats including audio feedback and from peers.
The purpose of formative assessment (assessment for learning) is to monitor and provide ongoing feedback for students to develop and improve their learning. Formative assessments can also feed information back into teaching by highlighting any issues or areas where learners are struggling. Almost any digital tool can be used for formative assessment and feedback, such as self-directed virtual patient activities, multi-disciplinary discussion boards and reflective blogging, where learners can receive comments from peers, educators and clinicians (Pachler et al. 2009).
Xerte Online Toolkits (XOT) (http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/xerte/toolkits.aspx) is a free open source system developed by the University of Nottingham, to create interactive, engaging and reusable learning objects, by subject-matter experts who do not have any coding or programming skills. The toolkits system facilitates a variety of formative assessment activities beyond multiple choice questions, such as drag and drop labelling activities, stimulating questions and sequencing exercises. Examples of XOT objects are available on the Xerte Community showcase site: http://www.xerte.org.uk/index.php?option=com_k2&view=itemlist&layout=category&task=&id=&Itemid=702&lang=en (see also XOT Examples in Resources list).
Similarly to formative assessment, diagnostic or self-assessments can improve learning and engagement. Diagnostic assessment focuses on the current skills, abilities or competencies of learners at that point in time, and it is often said that diagnostic assessment looks backwards and formative assessment looks forward. Electronic diagnostic assessments can be used prior to a teaching activity or if an issue is identified. For example, if you are going to deploy a new e-activity you may wish to incorporate a diagnostic assessment to ensure that your learners have the necessary IT skills to be able to complete the task, and be able to refer them on to further sources of training or support if required. Diagnostic assessment can help learners develop their self-monitoring skills to prompt deeper and more effective learning (Joint Information Systems Committee, 2010).
Summative assessment is the evaluation of student learning against a set criteria or standards: assessment of learning. As with the blended learning approach, summative assessment may be delivered in a combination of digital and traditional methods, for example an ‘e’ station in an OSCE providing a video of an ethical dilemma or clinical situation to which the students have to respond. There are a number of additional considerations when employing digital systems for summative assessment. Appropriate measures will need to be in place to ensure academic integrity is maintained, by ensuring that the necessary invigilation processes are conducted and that the candidates’ identity can be verified. Originality checking systems, such as Turnitin (http://turnitin.com) are typically used by most universities to assist with plagiarism detection, but can also be used proactively by learners to develop their referencing skills.
Security, confidentiality and system reliability are key concerns when using digital technologies to deliver summative assessments and examinations. Technical support will need to be available and appropriate backup systems should be in place. Network or bandwidth limitations may cause performance issues if multimedia resources such as videos or high resolution images are accessed simultaneously, which will need to be considered when designing online examinations.
Studies have found that many learners find audio and video feedback more detailed and personal, which can add value to their experience (Joint Information Systems Committee, 2010). Although there are now several tools available for providing feedback, the tool cannot assist in providing good quality feedback. Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) have devised seven principles of good feedback, which includes encouraging motivation and confidence, and providing opportunities to act on feedback (see the How to Give Feedback module).
How might you employ digital technologies to diversify formative and summative assessment?
How do you give feedback to learners and how do you know this is effective?