How should we use technology in assessment and qualifications?

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09 February 2018 by
That’s the question Nansi Ellis, National Education Union policy AGS, came away with from last Friday’s Westminster Education Forum on the future of assessment and qualifications.

"My contribution to last week's Westminster Education Forum meeting was to set out the principles I think should underpin the assessment and qualifications system. I proposed that we need a system we can use to hold governments to account for policies and impacts - one that has real professional engagement, ensuring that both curriculum and assessment are focussed on the big ideas and key concepts that pupils need to understand.

I believe that assessment needs to be fundamental to our pedagogy, and that exam boards could do more to support this. And we need to find ways to empower the profession, and everyone involved in assessment or exams, to speak up and to say no, when policies and practices are proposed that don’t fit with our principles, or when they are introduced at such speed that they have the potential to damage learning and learners.

I emphasised that we need an education system that empowers children and young people to live in the world, to meet life’s challenges, and help them to make a better world. We need an assessment system that can support this purpose.

Technology and assessment

Caron Downes, a classics teacher from York, reminded us how much technology is part of children’s worlds, how students and teachers already use technology in the classroom, how it helps us to engage with the world as it currently is, to experience issues from multiple viewpoints, as well as for students to produce original work and to demonstrate their learning in ways that suit the way they like to work. And yet, we still have exam rooms where pupils sit in rows and write with a pen for three hours.

Dr Matthew Glanville, from the International Baccalaureate (IB), showed us a video of how technology is used in some IB assessment where students engage in virtual environments and use real-life data and simulations.

Matt Wingfield from e-assessment spoke about adaptive testing, e-portfolios and gamification. And John Baskerville from RM Results spoke about artificial intelligence, and the possibility of no human markers – which would solve a problem that was also discussed at this Forum, of how we recruit teachers as markers, and even what role teachers should play in developing and marking exams.

Many of the questions were about practicalities – how do you make sure everyone has the technology and WiFi that will stand up to the use? How can you be sure that computer-based assessment will give you comparable results over time or between pupils? How can you ensure that exams are standardised?

But deeper questions emerged, about why we have to test all pupils at the same time and whether we have to have the same levels of marking accuracy and standardisation across every form of assessment.

And then we talked about artificial intelligence and driverless cars: how initially the conversation was about whether it was possible, and now it’s about how we can use the technology to make driving safer. It seems to me that we could look at AI in exams in a similar way. But we need to be clear what the aims would be: we could be talking about taking humans out of marking, and to my mind that raises difficult questions about the role of human relationships in assessment practice. But we could be using the whole concept of artificial intelligence to think about what we really want exams to be able to do.

Schools are often accused of using technology to do what we do already but faster and more efficiently. This is what I felt some of last week’s discussion was about – how can we make the exam process that we all know and love a bit quicker, a bit more accurate and a bit more efficient? But the challenge surely is to think about how technology can change our conception of assessment and of individual exams, and how it can support us in making assessment more human and more hopeful.

Share your thoughts

  • How do you use tech in your teaching, and more particularly in your assessments?
  • What exciting opportunities should we be trying to promote in our conversations with exam boards, the regulator and government?
  • What are the big pitfalls that we need to avoid?
  • If you’re a marker, how do you think we should use tech to enhance your experience, or to change the way we do things?
  • And how can we use the tech question to change the way we talk about and carry out assessment more fundamentally?
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