Assessment of learning in a digital age

Given the limited word-count of this discussion, the material presented in the Jisc report ‘Effective Assessment in a Digital Age’ (Jisc, 2010) cannot be effectively discussed in full. Therefore I will solely focus on using technology to capture student feedback in relation to learners with learning difficulties and/or disabilities (LLDD). This focus has been chosen because I work in a specialist college where most assessment is done either through observation or question-and-answer. As an Assistive Technologist, I promote student-led assessment where learners are supported, using technology, to give feedback as independently as possible. According to the Jisc report (2010, p9), increasing learner autonomy helps enable transformative effects in using assessment.

To fulfil this objective, I created an alternative means of assessment called ‘ACCESS: Feedback’ - an Jisc funded accessible evaluation tool. This simple survey interface, shown in figure 1, allows practitioners to create assessments and then deploy to students to complete in a way that best suits the learners. Using inclusive methods such as text-to-speech, symbols to support literacy and interfacing well with a variety of assistive technologies such as screen-readers and eye-gaze, two major barriers were overcome with this approach; the increase in the autonomy of students completing the assessment and overcoming the difficulty that users of assistive technologies or those with learning difficulties have in accessing other technology solutions (such as survey-monkey).

figure 1 - ACCESS: Feedback sample question page (Thrussell, 2013)

However, while successful, it is worth noting, as mentioned in the Jisc report (2010, p17), that “technology should enhance assessment and feedback practices rather than replace highly valued strategies”. I found some learners still perform better using paper methods with staff support and as such this provision must remain in place to be inclusive for all learner needs.

ACCESS: Feedback has decreased the workload for practitioners which is another key focus of the Jisc report (2010, p5). Jisc highlight that technology should provide a more effective and efficient means to assess. The ACCESS: Feedback tool automatically collates student results and displays this in a graphical summary, whilst also allowing the practitioner to drill-down into the data gathered. This decreases practitioners workload and puts individual responses in context with their other answers and, if necessary, address concerns raised (e.g. feeling unsafe at college etc.).

The ‘Effective Assessment in a Digital Age’ report (Jisc, 2010) is a comprehensive resource as it draws upon multiple case-studies and sources to cover a wide range of technology supported assessment methods. It does not aim to give specific recommendations, rather, it seeks to inform the reader of the importance of assessment as a tool both for and of learning and also to demonstrate how using technology can enhance current practice. The report would be strengthened if could support claims of the importance of assessment and that "technology, if used appropriately, can add value to any of the activities associated with assessment” (Jisc 2010 p5).

I have found that assessment can be enhanced using technology for LLDD and, if used effectively, will engage learners more fully and can increase independence to complete assessments allowing for greater learner autonomy.

Jisc. (2010). Effective Assessment in a Digital Age. HEFCE Dearing. Retrieved from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/elearning/digiasses_textonly.doc

Thrussell, M. (2013) ACCESS: Feedback. Retrieved from http://accesstechnology.org.uk/feedback/public/natspec2013