Scholarship around the potential contribution and impact of technology and the digital environment on assessment is substantial and in constant evolution. Such contribution has been argued along three main themes: the technology-based affordances and efficiency benefits emerging from the use of the electronic medium, the value-added/quality enhancing opportunities of electronic assessment, and the deeper and more far-reaching transformative potential offered by technology to change the nature of assessment. This article focuses on the first of these grounds: technology-based assessment. And it provides a historical overview of academic scholarship and institutional practice from the early days of computer-based assessment to more recent developments covering computer-based assessment, computer-adaptive testing, computer-assisted assessment, plagiarism detection technologies, esubmission, emarking technologies, and electronic management of assessment.
It is widely acknowledged that technology and the digital environment offer a range of opportunities and added value vis-à-vis traditional assessment activities, methods, and processes. The affordances of technology-based assessment revolve around (1) access to assessment from potentially any geographical locations and at any time; (2) automatized administration allowing students to undertake online tests many times and re-assess their knowledge; (3) enhancing static presentation of assessment items with interactive and media-enriched content; (4) computer data-processing capabilities such as automatic scoring and adaptive testing; (5) sophisticated reporting including both the easy gathering and analysis of student responses or behavioral data to allow the marker to refine and adapt assessment activities and instruction; (6) cost efficiencies emerging from scaling and automatization. Beyond an operational and efficiencies focus of technology-based assessment, a stream of scholarship has investigated ways in which technology can enhance, add quality, or value to both assessment and feedback processes. Case studies on the affordances and experiences of technology-enhanced assessment are abundant (see as useful overviews: Nicol 2008; Whitelock 2009; Oldfield, et al. 2012; Timmis, et al. 2016). In turn, and beyond quality enhancement, digital technology has been heralded for its transformative potential: for widening the range of possible approaches, designs, and methods of assessment. Early predictions of the inexorability and inevitability of technology-based assessment such as Bennett 2006 have co-existed with more realistic accounts. Already the Review of Advanced E-Assessment Techniques acknowledged “very little evidence of some of the more advanced Web2 technologies being used for assessment purposes.” Scholars such as Gipps 2005; Gaytan and McEwen 2007; and Whitmer, et al. 2016 have similarly maintained that the quality-enhancement and transformative opportunities offered by technology to rethink instructional and assessment strategies had been largely disregarded or underutilized. This article will concentrate on the literature and scholarship around the contribution of technology to existing assessment methods and processes as opposed to their enhancement or transformation. Technology-based assessment encompasses a wide range of forms of assessment, and over the years has undergone shifts in focus. While some computer-based technologies and computer-assisted assessments have remained relatively stable or experienced modest growth (MCQ e-tests, e-exams, in-class student response systems, e-portfolios), other technologies such as those allowing for plagiarism detection, electronic submission (esubmission), and electronic marking (emarking) of coursework have become mainstream. The esubmission and emarking technologies literature has also transitioned from an interest in the experience and impact of such technologies on students and staff to a focus on the rolling out such technologies and the management of the technological, cultural, and pedagogical and process tensions around such implementation.
Bennett, Randy Elliot. 2006. Inexorable and inevitable: The continuing story of technology and assessment. Computer-Based Testing and the Internet: Issues and Advances 1.1: 201–217.
Focuses on developments in computerized testing. It argues for the inevitability of technology-based assessment in the education sector. This inevitability is underpinned by changes in ICT such as hardware becoming cheaper, integrated test authoring and delivery software being readily available, and improvements in connectivity and Internet. The optimistic tone is tempered by the acknowledgement that incorporating technology into assessment may not inevitably bring lasting educational benefit.
Gaytan, Jorge, and Beryl C. McEwen. 2007. Effective online instructional and assessment strategies. American Journal of Distance Education 21.3:117–132.
Investigation of the perceptions held by students and faculty regarding instructional and assessment techniques in distance learning. Survey of staff (29) and students (332) revealed, among other aspects, that staff and students disagreed on the types of assessment that each saw as most effective. Defends the quality enhancements brought by a variety of online assessment instruments: rubrics, discussions, weekly assignments with feedback, use of portfolios, and tests in distance education.
Gipps, Caroline V. 2005. What is the role for ICT-based assessment in universities? Studies in Higher Education 30.2: 171–180.
This paper represents an early warning of the sociocultural challenges of using ICT in assessment. It reviews the use of electronic assessment opportunities in the VLE in the early days of these becoming commonplace in HE and the scale of developments/uptake. Concludes that using ICT for assessment is a minority activity, the prevalent type being computer-based assessment and computer-based tests being direct transpositions of existing paper-based instruments.
Nicol, David. 2008. Technology-supported assessment: A review of research. Glasgow: Univ. of Strathclyde.
This paper is a review of research on ways in which technology may support different stages in the assessment from the author’s own educational framework. Departing from his seven principles of good practice, Nicol exemplifies ways how technology can be put to the service of best assessment and feedback practice.
Oldfield, A., P. Broadfoot, R. Sutherland, and S. Timmis. 2012. Assessment in a digital age: A research review. Graduate School of Education, Bristol: Univ. of Bristol.
A review of the literature on electronic assessment at primary, secondary, further education, and higher education levels in the United Kingdom and internationally with a focus on CAA. Over 150 sources are included; mainly from peer-reviewed, academic publications (primarily since 2000), augmented by gray literature, research and government reports, and relevant newspaper articles. Provides a short history of technology-enhanced assessment, the enablers and barriers to implementation, as well as the challenges and affordances. Available online.
Ripley, M., J. Tafler, J. Ridgway, R. Harding, and H. Redif. 2009. Review of advanced e-assessment techniques (RAeAT): Final report. Edited by M. Ripley. Bristol, UK: JiSC.
JiSC-commissioned review of state-of-the-art techniques in e-assessment, associated issues, and benefits of advanced e-assessments. Concludes that there is effective practice in e-assessment, but the take-up is patchy and the impact negligible. Outlines examples of advanced e-assessment and argues benefits in terms of broadening the range of assessment methods, deriving efficiencies from automatization, and providing routes to delivering greater consistency.
Shepard, Lorrie A. 2000. The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher 29.7: 4–14.
Educational research paper examining the transformation of assessment practice and defending changes in practice in the direction of social-constructivist pedagogy. Shepard argues that while approaches to learning have moved in the direction of constructivism, approaches to assessment have remained inappropriately focused on testing and the underlying behaviorist learning theories and scientific measurement. Defends the reconceptualizing of assessment from a constructivist perspective.
Timmis, Sue, Patricia Broadfoot, Rosamund Sutherland, and Alison Oldfield. 2016. Rethinking assessment in a digital age: Opportunities, challenges and risks. British Educational Research Journal 42.3: 454–476.
The article takes the debate on electronic assessment beyond the strict realm of teaching and learning and examines critically risks and challenges of technology-enhanced assessment notably ethical concerns over social exclusion and new forms of digital dividedness. It outlines the risks associated with big data and ethical and policy considerations around the rise of learning analytics. Defends the rethinking of electronic assessment away from measurement and the re-purposing of assessment for student learning.
Whitmer, John, Nicolas Nuñez, Timothy Harfield, and Diego Forteza. 2016. Patterns in Blackboard Learn tool use: Five course design archetypes. Edited by Blackboard. US: Blackboard.
Empirical study of how VLE is used by faculty and students from a sample of seventy thousand HE courses in North America. Identified patterns in utilization of VLE tools and concluded that the large majority of courses (53 percent) placed heavy emphasis on being a repository of course materials, while online assessment tasks accounted for 6 percent of online time.
Whitelock, Denise, ed. 2009. Special Issue: eAssessment: Developing new dialogues for the digital age. British Journal of Educational Technology 40.2: 199–398.
This special issue gathers case study contributions from various authors on how technology has the potential to offer new forms of assessment with immediate feedback to students. This special issue gathers a range of case studies on the potentially creative opportunities for innovation and for rethinking assessment purposes. It is worth noting, however, that most of the cases presented fall mainly in the field of testing either online exams, student response systems, or formative tests. Available online.
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