Jisc report calls for an end to pen and paper exams by 2025

The new report from the education non-profit has suggested five ways to improve assessment for all

A new report from the edtech non-profit Jisc has urged the education sector to abolish pen and paper exams by 2025.

Constructed by Jisc with insights from industry experts, the report has put forward five suggestions and targets for UK education providers to implement in the next five years in a bid to digitise assessment.

As a core part of education, known to drive improvement, shape behaviour and promote accountability, the non-profit has questioned why examinations have remained the same for centuries – especially when education technology has the potential to revolutionise the process.

“This report highlights an important opportunity for improving education in the UK,” said Andy McGregor, director of edtech at Jisc. “If used well as part of good assessment design, then emerging technologies can transform the way students are evaluated  so that it is more relevant to their careers, more accessible and more secure, while promoting wellbeing and removing some of the administrative burden on teaching staff.”

The report’s recommendations have already been implemented at some institutions – including Bolton College, which is extending its automatic marking process to include natural language processing. Meanwhile, Preston’s College in Lancashire is using immersive technology by way of a 360° camera in the dance studio; and Newcastle University is shifting towards digital exams.

Jisc notes that while there are prime examples of digitised assessment taking place across the UK, these are the exception, not the rule. The use of tech in academic assessment is much more prevalent elsewhere in the world; in India, for example, the use of biometric data makes it virtually impossible for one student to impersonate another. Between December 2018 and August 2019, the Indian National Testing Agency assessed almost five million candidates for entrance to education establishments. Each student uses an e-card with their thumbprint and photo to access the exam room, while a photo and thumbprint taken that day is attached to the attendance sheet, which must be signed by the student.

Assessment is also a key priority of the government’s Edtech Strategy, which stresses “reducing teachers’ marking workload” as a major goal.

“There’s real appetite for change in the UK education sector and many individuals are already exploring innovative new approaches,” adds McGregor. “But widespread transformation doesn’t happen overnight and requires a change to the way data about assessment is collected and managed. Just as importantly, staff will need to be given time and space to experiment and develop confidence with new technology so it can be used to enhance assessment.”

Jisc’s five targets for transforming assessment by 2025:

Authentic – There will have been a shift in focus from acquiring knowledge rooted in a particular curriculum or occupational area to acquiring transferable skills, and these will be assessed in a more realistic way.

Accessible – The design of assessments will have moved to an accessibility-first principle that allows the same assessment to be delivered in multiple ways depending on the needs of the learner.

Appropriately automated – A balance will need to be established between automated and human marking and feedback that delivers the maximum learning benefits.

Continuous – Data and analytics will be in widespread use to assess the effectiveness and impact of continuous assessment and to plan strategies across the whole organisation.

Secure – There will have been a general adoption of authoring detection and biometric authentication for identity and remote proctoring.

At the heart of these targets sits the need for a priority focus on continuous professional development in digital skills for education staff, which would empower teachers, instilling them with the confidence needed to adopt innovative assessment approaches.

The Jisc report, The Future of Assessment: five principles, five targets for 2025, contains advice and guidance to help organisations improve the assessment process. It comes as part of the non-profit’s vision for Education 4.0, which explores how technology could transform education for the better.

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