Fair assessment for everyone: reflections on the factors impacting student experience of e-assessment

Mar 8, 2021

Dr Anja Sisarica

Digital assessment is sometimes viewed as the bridge between school, work, and active citizenship. It secures alignment between the tools used in everyday teaching and learning, and those that students might use in their professional life. What the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, in addition to the importance of authentic assessment in education, is that there are also other factors that are emerging since 2020: how online assessment helps us bridge the digital divide; how to deal with digital poverty in education; and how to use the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink assessment design for better support of a student’s learning outcomes.

Authentic assessment and why do students want it

Online learning and online assessment go hand in hand since both play important roles in growing areas such as adaptive learning, analytics and personalised education; authentic learning and assessment mirror the skills, tasks and ways of problem solving that learners are required to master for life.

Exam day can be a learner’s time to shine . In online environments, learners may feel confident using their own computer or device, which they are familiar and a digital exam enables a paperless flow where assignments and papers are handled with a mere click of a button. In on-screen marking, the quality checks are less subject to the possibility of bias, caused by the learners’ handwriting. Learners are not evaluated on their handwriting, and their work is automatically backed up. Learners with disabilities can have a range of built-in accessibility functions made available, ensuring a barrierless assessment experience.

survey conducted by Leeds Beckett University (2019) revealed student enthusiasm for an eAssessment platform related to user-confidence and trust in the accuracy of marking. Students believed that eAssessment was as rigorous as paper-based assessment and over 60% of students stated a preference for more online assessments. Another survey with students in a university in New Zealand (2020) revealed similarly high satisfaction rates with 86% of students rating their digital exam experience good, very good or excellent. The majority of respondents (80%) agreed or strongly agreed that they would recommend digital exams to other students and this was reflected in the uptake of students choosing to participate in the online pilot.

Similar findings are evident across the world, suggesting that the students are ready for a digital transformation and may start to demand it from their universities!

Bridging the digital divide and addressing digital poverty

The enthusiam for online assessment has revealed digital poverty: A report from UNCTAD “The COVID-19 Crisis: Accentuating the Need to Bridge Digital Divides” (2020) demonstrates that the coronavirus has accelerated the transition towards a digital economy on a global scale. Organisations and companies alike are adopting digital solutions, tools, and services at a higher pace than ever before, but the report found a wide chasm between those who are online and connected and those who are not. The UN points out the inequalities related to the difference of digital readiness and resources, and that was something we recognised as a critical challenge.

The changes in our digital behaviour are, at least to some extent, likely to become permanent when global economies start to recover. The COVID-19 crisis has inevitably pushed us further into a digital world and made us reconsider existing business models and ways of teaching and working. We are always looking for solutions for bridging the digital divide and addressing digital poverty, because without it, we cannot have truly fair assessments.

An opportunity to rethink assessment design

The pandemic has forced us to rethink our assessment practices, including exam design. With both teaching and assessment rapidly moving online it has proven to be of great importance to be able to complete exams remotely.

In the experience of our partners, there are two main approaches to ensure the integrity of home exams. Faced with varying degrees of lockdown and considerable uncertainty about exam delivery, the educational institutions started to either redesign their assessments or to add enhanced security layers to online exams. Both approaches are effective, but in different ways and with different outcomes. In either case, the pandemic is a chance to rethink how assessment can and should be implemented in the future in order to improve the exam experience for students and teachers alike.

If you’re considering ways to improve the student experience of assessment at your institution, or want to learn more about effective online assessment design for learning, you are welcome to read our new whitepaper, “How to Create Better Exams” (free to download) or watch the webinar recording of the Q&A session on the same topic. Happy exploring!