One of the potentially positive aspects of the online pivot has been the manner in which it has forced educators and institutions to at least consider whether the face to face exams is the only method of assessment. Even quite conventional universities have decided that online exams (eg giving students a set time period to complete essays which can range from a few hours to a few weeks) is going to be the default mode from now on.
In less imaginative forms this has has taken the form of remote proctored exams, with AI or remote proctoring replacing the exam invigilator. This is problematic in a number of ways I won’t go into here. It’s also missing an opportunity to rethink what assessment is and how we do it (although I have sympathy when professional bodies demand it for accreditation). Replacing the 3 hour timed exam with the longer time period to complete an essay, that allows for online research is a more realistic task approximating to what a student might have to do in ‘real life’. Although it does raise the spectre of plagiarism, and with time and access students swarm to places like Course Hero (which is in no way an essay ponzi scheme, no sir).
This creates drivers for people to rethink assessment – the face to face exam is unpopular now that its alternative has been tried, and the standard essay based exam is subject to cheating when access is allowed. There are huge disciplinary differences here, and sometimes I think advocates for radical assessment overall (or complete removal) come from a liberal arts perspective and are not always appreciative of the different assessment requirements of say, maths or physics where definite right and wrong answers exist.
But for now, let’s consider some of the alternatives once you move beyond the traditional in-person exam. If students are studying completely online, and remote from a campus, then assessment arguably becomes more important. At the Open University, our tutors (Associate Lecturers) spend a good deal of time giving very detailed feedback on assignments, as these form the main point of contact often. Without the regular interaction students find assessment feedback essential to know if they are on track.
In a similar vein, use of automated assessment, while it can seem pedagogically unsatisfactory (the game of trying to come up with wrong answers for multiple choice can have you questioning your life choices), they fulfil an important ‘checking progress’ function.
More significantly, if students are learning in an online environment then it naturally lends itself to more ‘internet native’ forms of assessment. Here are some examples:
- Editing wikipedia
- Creating open resources
- Assessing contributions to discussion forums
- Online peer assessment
- Annotation of online content
- Incorporating analytics into assessment
- Regular blogging, commenting, etc
- Multimedia assessment
None of these are an answer for every topic, and they are not without their own issues and concerns. But they do demonstrate how the shift to online can open up other avenues for assessment. In higher ed, the exam, like the lecture, has become such a default model in higher education that we don’t often question why it was devised that way in the first place. The answer is in part because it fulfilled a number of logistical constraints. Online learning removes many of those constraints, so why wouldn’t we take the opportunity to reconsider?