Technology-enhanced assessment and feedback in further education and skills — how is the sector doing?

College staff working at a computer © sturti via iStock All rights reserved

In this post, we explore where you are on the road to technology-enhanced assessment, the barriers you’ve faced, and our planned activity to help you overcome them.

What does technology-enhanced assessment mean to you?

Is it something you’ve approached with vigour and have deeply embedded in organisational practice?

Are you making some headway, either at a course or departmental level, or a particular area such as e-testing?

Or is it looked on as a burden — in England, perhaps as just another requirement of the FELTAG agenda?

Embedded in practice…

It would be good if we could state with confidence that the first scenario is the standard. For some learning providers that is the case.

Walsall College in the West Midlands is one, using a suite of integrated technologies to deliver end-to-end assessment and feedback for its vocational learners.

Another good example is S&B Automotive Academy, a Bristol-based provider of specialist courses for the automotive industry, where apprentices gather digital evidence of their skills for uploading into their e-portfolio for assessment.

…or somewhere in the middle

However, most providers are somewhere in the middle — with use of technology-enhanced assessment across a single organisation often inconsistent, delivered in silos, and at a small scale.

Making the case

Why does this matter? Well, if you’re convinced of technology’s ability to enable high quality learning experiences, which support improved outcomes — and you should be — then you must also accept technology-enhanced assessment as a vital component within this.

Benefits for learning providers

For learning providers there are benefits in using technology to manage the whole assessment and feedback process — often referred to as the electronic management of assessment (EMA).

These include efficiencies, in terms of cost and time, where staff can be freed up for more valuable tasks. When managed end-to-end it should further improve effectiveness, giving a more joined-up, holistic view of learner progress, making individuals progress easier to track and understand what works for them, and what doesn’t.

A move to more online assessment is also in keeping with the FELTAG agenda.

Benefits for learners

For the learner, they also gain from using technology in being able to submit work online and potentially from a distance or on the move.

But there are broader benefits too when teachers use technology to take innovative approaches to assessment and feedback. In this way learners can benefit from assessments that are more flexible, engaging and relevant, and importantly, assessments that support and promote their learning as well as providing a measure of their progress.

Benefits for awarding organisations

Awarding organisations also benefit from the efficiency gains and enhancement that technology offers.

For example, by enabling external verifiers to verify assessment evidence remotely, and enabling more seamless data transfer obvious time and cost savings are made. Take that step further, and you can see clear potential for speeding up the whole process of achieving a qualification, benefiting learners and providers alike.

Re-engineering assessment

When we come to the matter of using technology-enhanced assessment to enable the gathering the evidence for the final award of a qualification, we have an opportunity to improve the quality (so, reliability, validity and authenticity) of the assessment itself, ensuring the right things are being assessed in the most appropriate way.

For example, learners are now able to demonstrate their skills and competences, through capture of evidence in real-time, providing assessors with valid, reliable and authentic evidence to assess against the awarding organisations standards. Of course, this capture can take place anywhere the learning is happening, in the classroom or the workplace, and the assessors no longer have to be there in person to assess in situ. And as an additional benefit learners now also have a rich ‘catalogue’ of evidence of their skills and abilities that they can draw on when applying for a job or university.

In reality, the technology used for assessment is just another tool to help organise life and work. As with using online banking or websites to buy products or services, or robotics if you work in the motor manufacturing industry — this one is designed specifically for the business of assessment.

By using such tools to capture their competence and skills electronically, undertake self-directed and independent learning and enable continued review and reflection on their progress, learners are acquiring — simply by doing — the flexible, digital skills required by employers.

As you can see from these examples, technology can enable the whole assessment process to be re-engineered, to benefit learners, awarding organisations and learning providers.

Barriers to adoption — your response to our survey

With the potential benefits so great, what’s stopping the FE and skills sector from grabbing hold of the opportunities? We’ve tried to find out.

Last year we invited leaders, managers and staff across a variety of roles to complete an e-assessment survey. More than 170 of you did, sharing your experiences, current practices, and hopes for the future.

Respondents were asked to identify the most significant barriers to technology-enhanced assessment and feedback, in an effort to get to the root of the problem. Some of what came up is as you’d expect.

Lack of funding was perceived as a major block, both in terms of investing in equipment and infrastructure, and the expertise and resource to support it.

Also featuring highly in concerns is the capabilities and digital confidence of staff. The very people needed to champion and deliver e-assessment on-the-ground do not always have the digital skills to do so. They need leadership, training and incentives to use e-assessment and new methodologies.

Finally, it came out of the survey (and is something reiterated by our experiences) thatsuccessful e-assessment implementation must start with strategy. It’s positive that just over half of those questioned said their organisation had a strategy for using e-assessment. What comes next is ensuring this strategy is well-defined, makes clear the value of e-assessment in relation to other strategic goals and policies, and that everyone understands their role in delivering it.

Where we want to go — and how to get there

There’s some way to go before we fully establish a landscape where technology-enhanced formative and summative assessment is the norm, but learning providers aren’t expected to do this on their own.

A number of key organisations, brought together by Jisc, will be working in partnership to support this aim. These include awarding organisations, the e-assessment advisory group, the Federation of Awarding Bodies and the e-Assessment Association.

These organisations have signed up to a joint statement agreeing a way forward, based on three strands of activity.

With the input of these organisations, we’re developing new guidance to tackle staff skills and a lack of digital confidence — including a short guide highlighting the value that technology can bring to assessment and feedback, and best practice case studies that will support a more strategic view. This should inspire staff to see what’s possible and how they could implement similar approaches themselves.

Access to this guidance and other helpful resources will be provided through an FE and skills online continuous professional development service we’re developing, to help teachers and others involved in the design and delivery of assessment.

To tackle the issues brought about through different approaches to the management of e-assessment by awarding organisations, as highlighted in the survey, all stakeholders willexplore where e-assessment administration processes can be harmonised, to ensure a more consistent experience for learning providers.

What comes next?

Over the coming months we’ll be working towards these outputs to ensure that every organisation is able to take advantage of the many benefits that technology can bring to assessment and feedback.

Look out for updates on our project blog and on Twitter via #jiscassess, or join our mailing list.

Guides on this topic are already available on our website and there’s new guidance still to be published.

You can also contact me (Lisa Gray) for more information.

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