When the country first went into lockdown last March, academics, administrators and senior leaders everywhere had to scramble to move their teaching online. Levels of support differed from institution to institution based perhaps on their existing resources and experience of online teaching. What is clear however, is that everyone did and continues to do all they can to ensure that their students are being taught the programmes they are on. I still remember the lockdown announcement. Though it came with an impending sense of doom, there was also a feeling of it being a short term measure required to alleviate a worsening situation but that with compliance would come a normal summer and a chance to be back face to face. Within a very short period of time, it became clear that we would be in this for some time.
What then would happen to assessments? The solution for many was to move their assessments online and make them open book. It wasn’t perfect, but realistic. Assessments are carefully designed by faculty to test knowledge, application, synthesis of facts and theory, so hastily having to change the way they were run had unintended consequences. Not everyone was able to change to open book assessments. There are exams regulated by professional, statutory and regulatory bodies (PSRBs) where institutions are not free to re-design or alter assessments. Here, the solution was to proctor online which was not without controversy.
As we enter what is hopefully a period where we move towards normality and a return to face-to-face teaching and assessment, what have we learned from being online? Sure, there are challenges but there’s also been an opportunity to use digital tools either for the first time or in a different way to pre-pandemic.
Specifically for assessment, the move to digital has either reawakened projects to implement digital assessment or kickstarted conversations that languished in the ‘nice to have but not today’ pile. With careful consideration and planning, rather than emergency implementation, digital assessment can become part of the suite of methods used by institutions to enhance the way that students demonstrate their learning. Using a computer opens possibilities for assessing that don’t exist on paper. Moreover, it allows students to demonstrate their learning in a way akin to what they will do when they graduate. There are few instances in life of being asked to sit in silence with a pen and paper. That’s been true for some time. I graduated in 2000 and was called to the Bar in 2002. I didn’t write a single opinion on paper.
It’s not without challenges though; academic, logistical and ‘hearts and minds’. There’s a difference between digitising an exam paper and rethinking your assessment. Logistically, years of process based on moving pieces of paper needs to be rethought to be just as efficient if not more. Finally hearts and minds need to be won for people to put down their red, green and blue pens when marking, for well known processes to change, for digital literacy to be address for both students and faculty. For then, the benefits of digital assessment can be seen by all.
Ishan Kolhatkar is General Manager of Inspera UK. Prior to joining Inspera he implemented the platform across an entire University, eliminating pen and paper exams. Ishan was a practising Barrister for almost a decade before moving into Education, first as a Lecturer on the Bar Exams, then he became Deputy Dean of Learning and Teaching and finally Director of Group Education before moving to Inspera. He therefore has first hand knowledge of what faculty, administrators and senior leaders want from digital assessment, along with the digital transformation and change management required to make it happen. Away from work he’s a keen amateur chef, posting pictures and videos of his food online.