‘We need a smarter, faster, fairer and more effective approach to assessment’

Andy McGregor, head of edtech at Jisc, believes the current grading system is ripe for change

When most of us think of assessment, we tend to recall sitting in a packed exam hall, surrounded by fellow students. Teachers pace up and down the aisles, and the silence is broken only by the scratch of pens on paper and the steady tick of the clock.

It’s interesting that, with the radical advancements we’ve seen over the past few hundred years, assessment has been slow to change. It’s a difficult area to change as maintaining the quality and validity of assessment is vital, but technology presents us with new opportunities that are worth exploring.

Education 4.0

At Jisc, we have a vision of a technology-enhanced education of the future, which we call Education 4.0. Reimagining assessment is a vital part of this – so we recently joined forces with sector experts and organisations across the UK to ask questions and explore ideas together. The resulting future of assessment report outlines how new approaches can cut teacher workloads, support professional development and improve student outcomes – all of which are stated aims of the government’s Edtech Strategy. Not only could a revamp of evaluation procedures relieve the marking burden, it could also improve the student experience and reduce some of the stress associated with assessment.

Work has already begun, with small pockets of impressive innovation already happening around the UK, as highlighted by case studies in the report. Bolton College is extending its automatic marking 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 moving towards digital exams.

Using technology for assessment doesn’t necessarily mean radical transformation; some of this overhaul can involve repurposing readily available technology – using video to record student presentations, for example.

Other countries are undeniably ahead of the game when it comes to digital assessment. Face recognition is being used to prevent plagiarism in India. Elsewhere, exams have been 100% digitised.

Back in the UK, the pace of change is slow. Real change will take time and will require alterations to the way assessment data is captured and managed, as well as focusing on supporting staff to gain confidence with new approaches and technology. But I think that we can make real progress by 2025.

A vision for 2025 assessment

As well as providing guidance and case studies, our report outlines five targets to advance assessment by 2025. Evaluations should be:

Authentic, recognising the need for transferable skills

Accessible, so assessment can be delivered in multiple ways depending on the needs of the learner

Appropriately automated, using both digital and human marking

Continuous, using data and analytics to ensure effectiveness

Secure, protecting learner identity.

These targets are a stretch, but a stretch worth attempting. New technologies could make these targets more achievable, but technology is only part of the picture and should be secondary to good assessment design. I believe it’s imperative we aim to transform assessment for the sake of students, staff, organisations and employers. We need a smarter, faster, fairer and more effective approach to assessment, and I hope this report is a catalyst for the change we need.

What do you think is the future of assessment? Join in the conversation on Twitter using #FuturesReport #Edu_4.0 and tagging @Jisc

The report will also be discussed at Digifest 2020, held at the Birmingham ICC, 10–11 March

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