2003 was a pivotal year in online assessment in the UK: AQA awarded its first onscreen marking contract; and RM began work on an innovative onscreen ICT test for what was then the QCA, as well as launching their first onscreen marking product. Nearly ten years on, the use of technology to support assessment processes and for the examinations themselves is the norm, and we are now entering the second generation of technology exploitation.
Building on current technologies
It is our view that the assessment technology of tomorrow will build on, rather than replace, the core architecture that has been built up over the last ten years: test delivery and onscreen marking technologies will continue to be used, but they will need to step up to the next phase of requirements. For example many awarding organisations are operating in a multi-lingual / multinational marketplace and so backend technology systems will need to be available in the local dialect and will need to be able to operate in an environment where the infrastructure is varied or less reliable. Building on technologies that exist, there is continued debate about the appropriateness and accuracy of automated marking technologies. Whilst we are not at the stage today where we can replace human markers with computers for anything but objective (i.e. multiple choice) question types, there is a growing interest in using computers as an extra quality check (i.e. to be run alongside the ‘human’ marker) and no doubt advances in intelligence technology will that mean that at some point in the future they will be used with confidence.
Another key advancement will see many more organisations utilising the data provided as a consequence of implementing e-assessment technologies, for example using the rich item level data to improve the quality of future assessments or to inform teaching. This is already a reality for some organisations and, in the UK schools market for example, it is already having a profound impact on teaching and learning
Technology sector advances
And what of advances in the wider technology sector? Two factors that will no doubt be an influence on e-assessment are cloud computing
and the need for everything to be ‘mobile’. Key to our market will be implementing these in an appropriate way. Putting any technology solution in the 'cloud’ can bring cost benefits, however in the world of high stakes examinations this needs to be balanced with implementing a solution that guarantees the security of the system and the examination. And the possibilities mobile technologies offer are endless. Whilst it would not be appropriate to run many of today’s assessments on a mobile phone or handheld device, no doubt this will change in the next decade. In the meantime, the growing ownership of smartphones and tablets means we all want to be kept informed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and so the possibilities for smartphone apps and alerts are endless.
Focussing on the benefits
Finally, with online assessment becoming the norm, we are seeing a switch in focus for many awarding organisations from implementing technology for technology’s sake, to focussing on the potential benefits and then making appropriate decisions. Whether that involves improving quality, reducing risk, increasing efficiency, or enabling innovation and a competitive edge, there is no doubt that technology is part of the answer; but working with the right partner and considering longer term objectives and strategy is also important.
Whatever the future holds, we’re on the cusp of an exciting era in assessment. In fact, to coin a phrase: the future’s bright, the future’s online.