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Eight trends in e-assessment at EAA

Note: Surpass Assessment is now the company name for BTL and BTL Surpass.

The future of e-assessment was a recurring theme at this year’s E-Assessment Conference in June. Topics covered everything including examples of innovation, and from AI to the digital divide and barriers to the wider rollout of on-screen testing.*

Read on for eight trends affecting the assessment industry right now.

1. Covid has accelerated change

The pandemic’s challenges have transformed assessment, and these changes mean that the move to on-screen assessment is now both “desirable and inevitable”. In his opening Keynote, Colin Hughes at AQA explained that students already feel this will happen, and there are many system-wide benefits in the longer term. But there are widespread worries about the speed of change.

“We need natural evolution, not revolution.”

Colin Hughes, CEO at AQA

One example of manageable change was Qualification Wales’s reimagining of GCSE digital technology, focusing on easy wins first.

2. The digital divide is real

One view, from Ian Castledine at RM, was that Covid was a great leveller, as pre-pandemic access to exams was already unfair (for example, distance to test centres is no longer an issue with Online Invigilation).

But Covid also led to an “inequality catastrophe”, as Claudia Bickford-Smith, Director of Education Services at OUP, put it. ‘Levelling the IT playing field’ means bridging the skills divide – improving digital literacy is key to the future success of a wider rollout. Some 15-20% of headteachers feel their schools are not set up to do on-screen testing.

3. There are many barriers to going digital in general qualifications

Barriers to on-screen assessment include school infrastructure, candidates’ and schools’ access to internet, and especially teacher training to use on-screen learning software and deliver on-screen assessment.

Training in general, for assessment professionals as well as teaching staff, was an important theme raised. “If not training, then explaining”, as John Winkley at Alphaplus phrased it, because moving to e-assessment will put pressure on all involved to understand new processes.

4. Fairness counts

Fairness is important to all stakeholders in assessment, and especially to students. Closing keynote speaker Isabel Nisbet from the University of Cambridge carried on this theme, to discuss the underlying principles of fairness as a concept: is there equality and does everyone get what they deserve? These issues naturally apply in e-assessment, too.

Issues outside of the test, such as test design and delivery, also affect test outcomes. Data poverty (including inability to afford devices or internet access) feed into the skills issue.

Is the idea of young kids now being ‘digital natives’ a myth? Research shows that exposure to technology does not equal ability to use it, so training is very much needed.

E-assessment providers can help improve fairness in testing: for example, by using Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) to let all students show what they can do. Using simulated practical tests can provide real-world experiences and learning.

5. Accessibility is important for fairness

On-screen assessment can help make tests more accessible for those with extra needs, and accessibility and equity have been hot topics for the Surpass Community sharing ideas and best practice during previous Surpass Conferences.

The WCAG 2.2 accessibility standard is coming in September. Creating accessible content and ensuring fair delivery are also vital, and this consideration should be part of test development and delivery processes not an afterthought, said Richard London, Senior User Experience at Prometric.

6. Data security and test integrity pose challenges

Examples from other industries and countries where e-assessment is more standard practice included Australia, and the finance industry (represented here by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) raised issues of organised cheating and data security.

Integrity must be preserved, and suggested options from Anita Goel at University of Delhi included randomized questions, group projects, secure/locked browsers and computers, integrity policies and identity authentication. A mitigation plan needs to include both prevention and detection of malpractice.

If you would like to discuss similar topics with like-minded professionals, don’t miss the Surpass Conference, 6-7 October.

7. AI & VR can help deliver ‘real-world’ learning and assessment

One fascinating Virtual Reality system demonstrated by the University of Manchester allowed students to take a medical history by questioning a virtual patient. VR and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are forecast to be the fastest-growing sector in the global ed-tech market by 2025.

AI tries to find patterns and derive meaning from these, and while it can learn to be better at doing this it still needs human input to set off the algorithm used, and to decide what a good outcome is. Barry O’Sullivan at the British Council predicted that “whoever cracks prediction of item/task difficulty using AI has cracked the future of e-assessment”.

8. There are challenges for Remote Invigilation and Online Proctoring

There have been great improvements in online proctoring (OP) and remote invigilation (RI) but there still remain challenges ahead, not least the impact of privacy laws such as GDPR.

EAA’s survey on OP and RI found that most respondents (63%) use remote invigilation but of those, most have only used it since the pandemic began in 2020. The most popular reason for using OI (80%) was to address candidate needs. In future, people expect more and better delivery, and within this, candidate communications is crucial in setting up tests so students know what to expect and how to set up (though people rarely read instructions!).  

A final conference finding was that organisations now expect OI to be an option within testing.

There were lots of great discussions at the conference, and the Surpass Community delivered a great talk on collaboration to address technology needs for functional skills reform. Watch Nicola Bennett from City and Guilds explain how C&G worked with Surpass on this.

Our international psychometrics partner Amanda Dainis was also well received with an interactive demonstration of tasks in Surpass.

 If you’d like to be involved in more discussions like these, why not join the EAA, for free?

We look forward to seeing more people at upcoming events, including at FAB, the Surpass Conference 6-7 October, ICE, EATP and ATP. Sign up to Surpass Community emails to hear more.

* All opinions and figures are taken from presentations at the conference, and do not necessarily reflect BTL’s views or research.

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