The future of assessment is eAssessment

Dr Sue Wilkinson, head of eAssessment at the International Baccalaureate (IB), explains why traditional assessment styles are outdated and how technology can, and should, be utilised for the future of assessment

Young people are growing up as digital natives, discovering and mastering advanced technology at an incredible rate, and due to their existence in a digital society, they are grasping these concepts more effectively than older generations. Despite the world continuing to evolve around digital technology, one particular area that has remained reluctant to incorporate technology is education assessment.

It seems archaic to limit young people to pen and paper assessments, when almost every other element of their lives is digitalised. Young people can be amazingly agile, resourceful and creative using the technology available to them; why should we not allow them to utilise these skills when it comes to assessment?

Many schools are committed to providing students with access to a range of devices and are developing innovative ways to integrate technology into aspects of day-to-day teaching and learning; from online collaboration with peers or subject matter experts in other locations, to the involvement of parents in their children’s learning. Teachers can learn how to successfully adopt technology as a teaching and learning tool, by sharing knowledge and outcomes with each other, both on a micro-level within their own school and local communities, and on a macro-level with the help of the internet. Schools have also started introducing different ways to track and assess students’ performance, and can create digital records of students’ development that can be passed from school year to school year and from one school to another, to benefit transition.

Although technology has been adopted into classrooms, the uptake with assessment boards to make examinations available to schools in digital formats has been slow. There is no comparison between on-screen and traditional paper examinations in terms of assessing the quality of student learning. When it comes to examinations, students should be given the best means to express themselves. This is why the IB decided to explore and develop eAssessments.

Our introduction of eAssessment was a key milestone in the IB journey to develop students who are independent and critical thinkers, with the skills to create a better world. Earlier this year our eAssessment and on-screen examinations were recognised for making assessment more meaningful at the International eAssessment Awards, which was an extremely proud moment for us. Just 25% of the eAssessment is based on knowledge recall. The rest is based on critical thinking, inquiry and communication skills, providing an effective assessment of the broad range of knowledge, skills and concepts that young people need in order to thrive and succeed in the 21st century.

Authentic assessment has the ability to examine students’ higher thinking skills and to push them to go beyond the rote memorisation of subject-specific content. Assessments should focus on scenarios in which students must use knowledge and skills to analyse unfamiliar situations, challenging them to connect what they have learned with what they might learn next, and apply big ideas to solve unstructured real-world problems. This has traditionally been hard to achieve using paper-based examinations, but through the technology used in eAssessment this becomes possible.

Different types of tasks are used within the on-screen examinations to test specific skills, meaning that students’ achievement against all subject objectives is thoroughly tested. For example, writing a short essay assesses writing capability, whilst creating an infographic assesses communication and presentation skills. With the use of images, videos, animations and models, and through interactive tools, candidates can create, manipulate and make decisions about how to manage data. On-screen tools can help students who aren’t working in their first language too, and adaptive technologies can ensure that the examinations are accessible to students with access needs, ensuring that all participants are given the best opportunity possible to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and abilities.

Sue Wilkinson

In today’s society, the world of education is beginning to catch up with the rapid pace of change reflected at home and in the workplace. Today’s teenagers have grown up with the internet, smartphones and tablets, video games, on-demand TV and film, and social media. They deserve academic assessments that value what they already understand and how they navigate the world. The power and impact of digital assessment is clear for young people who will live in societies that are ever-more complex, interconnected, and overflowing with easily accessible information. And whilst the education and assessment sectors are beginning to develop assessments that measure what matters for tomorrow’s world, this is only the start. We are only just beginning to unleash the power of technology to promote better learning and more meaningful assessment, to give young people experiences of learning that will equip them for life outside of the school walls.

International Baccalaureate: ibo.org