‘The variety of applications of e-assessment reported and their innovation and general effectiveness indicate the potential of e-assessment to significantly enhance the learning environment and the outcomes for students in a wide range of disciplines and applications.
Roadmap for e-Assessment Report for JISC (Open University, 2006)
The benefits of e-assessment can be broadly divided into improved quality, covering things like student satisfaction, retention, progression and attainment; and improved efficiency, covering cost savings and organisational efficiency. Jisc (2011) summarises particular benefits from a number of reports and projects:
• Dialogue and communication: Online interaction via forums, blogs, email and voice boards can enrich feedback and help to clarify learning goals and standards. Distance and time constraints can be overcome.
• Immediacy and contingency: Interactive online tests and tools in the hand (such as voting devices and internet-connected mobile phones) can facilitate learner-led, on-demand formative assessment. Rapid feedback can then correct misconceptions and guide further study.
• Authenticity: Online simulations and video technologies can increase the discriminatory power of assessment and support risk-free rehearsal of real-world skills in professional and vocational education.
• Speed and ease of processing: Assessment delivery and management systems can provide instant feedback to learners and practitioners, yielding robust information for curriculum review and quality assurance processes. Interoperability standards can facilitate transfer of data between institutional systems.
• Self-evaluative, self-regulated learning: Activities such as peer assessment, collection of evidence and reflection on achievements in e-portfolios and blogs can generate ownership of learning and promote higher-order thinking skills, in turn improving performance in summative assessment.
• Additionality: Technology can make possible the assessment of skills and processes that were previously difficult to measure, including the dynamic processes involved in learning. Technology can also add a personal quality to feedback even in large-group contexts and, through efficiencies gained from asynchronous communication and automated marking, can enable practitioners to make more productive use of their time.
Similarly, the SQA (2014) has collated benefits on their website, highlighting the potential of e-assessment to support learning and teaching; support assessment and marking; improve security, cost and administrative benefits; quality enhancement; the linking of formative and summative assessment; and potential to motivate learners.
Jisc (2014) recommend the use of technology-supported assessment and feedback specifically to enhance employability. A number of projects demonstrate that the use of technology can develop and evidence the skills and competencies needed in the world of work. E-assessment can provide better management and analysis of course information; build employability into curriculum design;demonstrate evidence of professionally relevant learning; support self-reflection and peer-review; simulate real-work environments; allow students to demonstrate their digital skills; and build employability into assessment and feedback practice.
The quality and effectiveness of feedback can also be improved by using technology. Benefits can be realised both in terms of improving timeliness, and also in ensuring that students act on that feedback. The University of Dundee EFFECT project (Jisc, 2013) used a range of methods of providing feedback and encouraging reflection. Through their use of a blog, Twitter and email for all TQFE-Tutor (feedback) communications they have evidenced the following benefits:
- Enhanced self-direction in programme participants
- Greater opportunities for peer assessment and collaboration/networking in a distance learning context
- Improved final results (i.e. more programme participants successfully completing the programme within one academic year)
- Improved informal staff development opportunities
- Workload savings for participants and all staff groups (administrative, academic, associate)
- Speedier response time for communication with TQFE-Tutor
- Better quality feedback and more consistent across a geographically diverse team
- Improved support for participants and associate staff
Further benefits to learners include: “access, choice and diversity”; “quality and effectiveness of feedback”; and “development of graduate attributes and employability skills” (Jisc, 2010). The University of Huddersfield (Jisc, 2013) reports the following practical benefits, to learners, of online submission:
- convenience of not having to travel to hand in work
- avoidance of printing costs
- time saved and avoidance of anxiety around work submitted via the postal system
- automatic proof of receipt
- confidence in the safety and security of the system
- the confidence of knowing their work was backed up
- clarity about turnaround times for marking
- realistic timing of submission deadlines (11.59 pm deadline at Huddersfield)
- increased privacy when marked work is returned electronically
- a sense that this is simply normal practice in a digital age
There are benefits to academic staff too: they have “opportunities to design richer, more interactive assessment and feedback”; “increased efficiency and reduced workload”; and “wider variety of techniques to engage and support the diverse needs of learners” (Jisc, 2010). Queen’s University Belfast (Jisc, 2013) report the benefits of online marking for academic staff include:
- the convenience of not having to collect and carry large quantities of paper
- the convenience of electronic filing
- the security of having work backed up on an online system
- the ability to moderate marks without having to physically exchange paper
- the increased speed and efficiency of being able to reuse common comments
- improved morale through not having to write out repeated comments
- the convenience of being able to undertake originality and plagiarism checking in the same environment as marking
- improved clarity of marking and feedback (especially the ability to include lengthy comments at the appropriate point in the text)
- improved consistency of marking
The benefits of e-assessment are widely evidenced and as a result the “range and flexibility of delivery and assessment modes” is a quality indicator both by Education Scotland (2013), and by the Scottish Government, who specify that “the development and use of…assessment technologies” is evidence of the professional standard in assessment (2012). It has been demonstrated that e-assessment and can facilitate improvement across the whole curriculum (Ridgway & McCuster, 2003), and yet academic staff are not only failing to engage but failing to see the potential benefits (ETNA, 2012). Given that “assessment is central to learning and teaching” and “what is assessed defines what is taught and how it is learnt”, “getting assessment ‘right’ is essential to the well-being of learners and institutions, and instrumental to the achievement of national strategies for widening participation and e-learning” (Jisc, 2009).