Professor Hatzipanagos and Professor Tait considered the debate on assessments following the Covid-19 driven changes. They presented findings from the CDE evaluation of the emergency jump to online timed assessment at the University of London in 2020 and 2021, focussing on the positive changes in successive years and identifying where we could go next, recognising that there was diminished interest in returning to pre-pandemic assessment methods.
The CDE surveyed and interviewed students and academics (examiners and programme directors) in 2020 and again in 2021. In 2021, learning from the 2020 experience, additional instruction and training for students was developed and made available prior to online timed assessments. Students and staff were more comfortable with the format. The digital shock had lessened, partly due to better information and training for students from the UoL and from Course directors and partly because of developing digital skills. Both survey cohorts recognised advantages of flexible assessment, being better for mental health with less stressful environments, more accessible for many and with no additional travel needed.
Describing the measures taken to address concerns about academic integrity (honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, courage and misconduct), they discussed what worked and what didn’t, and how we can design assessments to promote academic integrity. A strong theme was the positive effects that this new form of assessment has for student wellbeing and pedagogical development.
The forced switch to online assessment had to happen rapidly in 2020, as a result assessments in the first year did have some technical problems. There were concerns that plagiarism and collusion would rise, and award value could drop because of the loss of student verification and invigilation.
In 2020, it was quickly obvious that technical solutions were of limited value (for proctoring or moderating). Yes, software can detect text similarity and was used widely, detecting a worrying rise in essay mills and the use of CHEGG (a private company providing answers). Online proctoring for example met with considerable resistance from students.
There is an impetus to innovate in assessment practice. Initially assessments were rewritten to test understanding and interpretation rather than recall. That development has continued, with an accelerated reimagining of assessment beyond the initial switch to online exams. The result has been a lot of redesign for on campus programmes – because it HAD to be done - and less for Distance Education because of staff resource constraints and a growing need for professional development for online solutions.
Academics also appreciated an increased ability to support students in their learning, but also called for help and training themselves in designing assessment to maintain academic integrity and avoid plagiarism and misconduct. The survey found some subject-specific variation on misconduct. Guidance in the form of induction, short courses, videos, plagiarism were created to familiarise students with academic integrity in online assessment.
The pandemic has accelerated assessment rethinking and triggered innovation. Online exams for all have also created a desire for closer alignment between campus based and Distance Education assessment. But we can go further to make assessments more authentic, inclusive, valid and reliable; all aims that have been talked about in the sector for years.
It’s clear that academics would welcome training in designing such assessments. Look out for CPD on online assessment but also on practically managing academic integrity.