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Effective Assessment in a Digital Age

February 6, 2011

Effective Assessment in a Digital Age (JISC)On 20 January Bob Guinn and I had a rewarding day when we attended Effective assessment in a digital age, one of four workshops organised around the country by JISC. These workshops complemented the JISC publication of the same name: the publication, along with supporting case studies and other materials, can be accessed from www.jisc.ac.uk/digiassess

Like the publication itself, the workshop focused on the nature of effective assessment, then looking at the role of digital technologies in supporting and improving assessment practices. There’s not a hint of trying to shoehorn technology into the assessment process, and in this digital age few could argue with this statement from the Introduction

“It is proposed that technology, if used appropriately, can add value to any of the activities associated with assessment: from establishing a culture of good practice to the processes involved in submission, marking and return of assessed assignments; from the delivery of assessment to the generation of feedback by practitioners or peers.”

All of this is very timely, as a TVU e-assessment working group has just been set up to look at how technology is currently used in the University’s assessment processes, and to recommend ways in which the use of technology can be successfully extended.

One exercise at the workshop involved thinking about what you would do if you wanted your students to fail. Identifying what not to do – e.g. set unrealistic criteria, provide insufficient or unclear information on what the assessment will involve, fail to provide constructive feedback – proved to be a useful way of defining what one should do. In fact principles of good assessment have been articulated by the REAP project – see www.reap.ac.uk/reap/resourcesPrinciples.html – and are included in the JISC publication. These stress the importance of effective formative feedback.

The E-Reflect software, developed as part of the Making Assessment Count at the University of Westminster, aims to make learners reflect on their assessment, and provide them with constructive feedback based on their reflections. Although mechanistic (the software provides a standard passage of text depending on the learner’s choices – themselves drawn from a limited range of options) the response from students has been largely positive. And as open source software, the system lends itself to being made more sophisticated – this would depend as much on input from academics as from technologists.

Materials used at the workshop – including video and PowerPoint presentations, and resources such as the “challenge to change” cards which could be used in workshops within the University – can be found here.

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