Both learning and assessment making greater use of ICT


In ICT led innovation new styles of learning have an exciting image but assessment usually fails to excite as  much enthusiasm. But many in education  believe  assessment must  radically change if ICT is to be used to its full potential. In a paper given at a special QCA conference  as far back as  2001 [, Craven and Harding 2001], the interaction between assessment and learning was likened to a three-legged race, in which neither partner can make much progress without the other’s contribution.  Examining boards have been  seriously developing the use of ICT in assessment for  well over a decade. UCLES’ first major test of on screen marking of scanned paper scripts was conducted back in the  winter of  2000 and was rated a success. The results indicated that with suitable modifications to the software used by examiners, screen based marking of whole scanned paper scripts would be likely to be as reliable as conventional marking. The  application of technology to the exam marking and processing systems is becoming more and more widespread and helping it is claimed  to ensure not only the smooth and speedy delivery of results but also the provision of valuable performance data. It is true that the major exam boards now routinely use technology in their exam processes, at least in  some way. For example  over half of Edexcel’s General Qualification exam papers,, were marked online this year. But are we reaching the point when exams will not just be marked online but taken online as well?  Simon Lebus, chief executive of Cambridge Assessment,  believes that traditional examinations are likely to disappear within 10 to 15 years, to be replaced by computerised testing. Instead of three-hour written exams, there will be continual e-assessment throughout pupils’ courses. Exam boards are investing millions of pounds in developing the necessary technology – and, Lebus  says that this  is  not “science fiction”. OCR has piloted a fully e-assessed GCSE in environmental and land-based science since 2007. This summer 1,800 candidates at 80 schools and colleges took it.

Views on this tend to be strong and mixed. As Steve Besley of Edexcel has said ‘ At stake are two difficult circles that need squaring; on the one hand the increasing use by young people of computers rather than pen and paper to communicate information and on the other, the need to ensure that the validity of assessment decisions is maintained.’  In her Chief Regulator’s Report last December, the then chair of Ofqual noted that “technology is second nature to today’s learners” and “the assessment system we are devising now must be able to provide a firm basis for the changes that are bound to take place over that time.” At present as this summer saw, computer based testing remains the preserve of shorter, competence based tests and any shift towards mainstream exams remains some way off and  is controversial. But it  does seem just a matter of time given the advances in software ( look at what software is available to spot plagiarism-  which being used much more frequently in Higher Education) for ICT to be fully integrated in assessment. In an article in the Guardian on results day, Professor Dylan Wiliam suggested it would be “20 years before all GCSEs and A levels were taken at computers” Many would agree but technology may start to break down other traditions such as the need for fixed days for examining and reporting which might in a few years time  look almost Dickensian.  But one thing we do know is that claims of what computers can do efficiently  and effectively are too often oversold, by consultants and those who have a vested interest in selling hardware and software. Indeed there is some  anecdotal evidence of a backlash against ICT in education as some Heads and governors  rebel against the costs of constant  hardware and software up-grades,  on-going technical problems  and  worries  about the  mixed evidence over the educational value of ICT and educational software and its claimed impact on outputs .ICT too often  seems to have become an end rather than a means.  Politicians too are cautious about ICT  given that there have been far too many cost overruns and failed ICT projects in the public sector   in which promised outputs either fail to materialise or  are delivered late and over budget. In these austere times this is a significant factor.

However, even so, it is fairly safe to conclude that greater use of ICT will affect every one,  both in learning and assessment .There has been a global shift towards computerised assessments. Singapore is seen as a something of a pioneer in this area.  The US already   has  some multiple choice and computer marking, while South Korea is rapidly developing new e-assessment models. Denmark is piloting the use of the internet during some essay-based exams, seen as the equivalent of the move to allow calculators in maths exams. In this changing environment formative and summative assessment  will not remain so distinct, and it is now possible for an awarding authority to gather data to be taken into account when at the end of a course a certificate of achievement is issued. So expect quite a few changes over the next ten years.


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