Pros and cons of using technology enhanced assessment

The benefits of using TEA are manifold, but there are sometimes 'costs' associated with its use. Those that are applicable to TEA as a whole are outlined below, while the pros and cons of using each individual method are outlined in the section on using technology to deliver assessments.

Pros

Improves authenticity and alignment with learning outcomes

TEA can take a great many forms, and the design flexibility that this might afford you allows you to assess a wide range of students' skills and competences beyond simply recall. By allowing a broader range of skills to be tested in a number of different ways it becomes much easier for you to make the tasks more authentic and align assessments with the learning outcomes of a module. TEA also provides you with the opportunity to replicate the sort of tasks that students will be expected to complete in the workplace in a risk free environment.

Helps to clarify marking criteria

Virtual learning environments (VLEs) such as Moodle and Blackboard, allow you to present assessment criteria clearly within the module information, ensuring marking criteria are transparent and accessible to all students.

Spreads the assessment load for staff and students

Digital platforms allow the delivery of assessments to be scheduled. TEA also makes it easier to repurpose and reuse your resources (learning objects) and can enable automatic marking, thus further reducing your workload.

Assessments delivered via digital platforms can be scheduled and automatically released at set intervals, thus enabling the assessment load (and its associated marking and feedback provision) to be spread throughout the term, which can reduce the sense of assessment overload for you and your students. Using technology can increase assessment efficiency by, for example, allowing the creation of reusable resources (learning objects) and by facilitating automatic marking. Technology can provide a means of delivering rapid feedback, or even automate the process, making it clear to students when they have performed well and hopefully clarifying the assessment criteria even further.

Improves student engagement and promotes deeper learning

The use of technology to enhance assessment can also be a boost to student engagement by enabling diverse assessment methods to be implemented, supporting active learning, allowing more frequent formative assessment and by extension promoting deeper learning and improvements in grades1,2. Using a broader range of assessment methods can also allow a wider range of skills to be assessed.

Additional benefits to using TEA include:
  • increased flexibility as students can access online assessments at any time and at any place where a connection is available, even on their mobile phones. This provides additional flexibility for learning and allows students to access assessments at a time that best suits their individual learning approaches and needs;
  • readily available statistics on student performance, which can also enable courses to be more easily reviewed.

Cons

Despite the numerous benefits to be derived from implementing TEA, you may find that there are also a number of 'costs' associated with its use:

Finances and staff time

One of the biggest issues of implementing TEA is the associated cost, both monetary and in terms of your time and effort, which need to be weighed up against the associated pedagogic benefits. Assessment design (both conceptual and aesthetic) is an important consideration when creating TEAs and can sometimes take a lot of time to get right.

Accessibility issues

Digital literacy among students (as well as staff) is far from a level playing field and as such some students may be uncomfortable with the use of TEA. The requirements of students with special educational needs must also be taken into account from the outset and, if necessary, alternative methods of assessment provided.

However, use of TEA can also improve accessibility, for instance, by allowing students to submit audio or video assignments in lieu of written ones3  and by enabling students to change the way that electronic assessments are presented (e.g. text size, colour etc) to suit their needs.

Large-scale introduction requires a significant level of institutional buy in

Implementing TEA within an individual assessment, or the assessment programme for a module is not an insignificant undertaking, but is achievable. Initiating a broader transformation, however, requires a high level of investment, both in technology and in staff and student training, particularly if the assessment is to be used summatively. Any widespread implementation needs to be aligned with institutional and external policies and the pedagogic benefits to students clearly identified. You also need to ensure that there is a commitment to provide adequate support both for the production of assessment materials and their delivery. Such a shift may require a cultural change that can take sometimes take a while to achieve. This further emphasises the need for a strong pedagogic grounding for any decisions to move in this direction.

Sense of isolation

If a shift to online assessment results in a reduction in contact time or face-to-face interaction with other students, it might result in students feeling a sense of isolation. This is cited as one of students' main concerns about the wider implementation of TEA4.

Further issues for you to consider include:
  • the potential for hardware or software issues to prevent the assessment from taking place;
  • difficulty in confirming the identity of students completing online assessments outside of the classroom;
  • resistance to change by students and staff.

References

  1. Effective Assessment in a Digital Age: A guide to technology-enhanced assessment and feedback. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/elearning/digiassass_eada.pdf [9th August 2011].
  2. Gibbs, G. & Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. 1, 3-31.
  3. Black, C. (2002). Amending assessment for a dyslexic student. http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/pesl/resources/assessment/amending100/ [9th August 2011].
  4. Teaching and Supporting Learning. In: National Student Forum Annual Report 2009. pp. 12-31. http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/higher-education/docs/n/09-p83-national-student-forum-annual-report-09 [9th August 2011].

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