One question that the team at TestReach has been asked on calls with clients and partners is what we think will be the long-lasting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world of assessment and e-assessment. Obviously at the moment, with restrictions on people gathering at test centres, paper-based and test-centre based exams are unable to take place, so there is a huge demand for online assessment software and remote proctoring services. But will this demand continue into the future?
A range of assessment consultants have in the past contributed their expertise to our popular “Examining the Experts” blog series. So we returned to some of our experts, and asked them to look into their crystal ball and give us their thoughts on where things are headed for the future of assessment and e-assessment. We’re sure you’ll find their views of interest, and if you have any comments on this post or any blog posts you’d like to see in the future, just let us know through our TestReach contact page. Don’t forget to subscribe at the end of the blog, to receive a monthly assessment blog update in the future.
Our first contributor is Geoff Chapman, who has two decades of international education experience. Geoff is a published author on the subject of e-assessment, and is co-owner of the trade publication World Exam Tech. Here is what Geoff predicts as the lasting impact of the pandemic on assessment and e-assessment:
1. Increased Mainstream Media Coverage of E-Assessment
We’ve already seen weak ‘stories’ by uniformed commentators playing ‘gotcha’ for clickbait. The e-assessment community must be increasingly vocal, better engaged, and fight back against misconceptions and untruths.
Therefore, trade bodies and suppliers will be pressured to address issues raised by the mainstream, or face irrelevancy. The safe space of a boutique community has value. Unfortunately, many assessment players prefer an ivory tower approach: speak to their own echo chamber audience, and obfuscate the sector, rather than (ironically) educate stakeholders.
Some SMEs will continue social media tub-thumping. Unfortunately, that impact will be limited. There is an emerging tendency to lump ed-tech in with the ‘big tech backlash’. Ironically, the ‘backlashers’ will be the same people and institutions who are uncomfortable with the harsh spotlight, level of insight, and audit that e-Assessment provides.
2. Increasing Investment into E-Assessment
The global exam tech sector is worth about USD $7.4bn. The pandemic has seen investors pour unprecedented money into ed-tech ventures, including e-assessment.
A mix of seriously funded new sector entrants and respected brands entering the sector are getting results. We’re seeing this in the US and Australia. More European ed-tech investment will flow into e-assessment, as more procurement opportunities present themselves. Unfortunately, much government policy ‘follows the money’, although there is an irony that policy may turn to be positively disposed to e-assessment in the near future!
3. Permanent Outsourcing of Proctoring/ Invigilation Services
Where once this was performed in-house, using unscreened volunteers, many institutions will permanently move their proctoring to external provision. As more focus is driven to preventing malpractice, exam owners see the benefits of quality control and arms-length oversight that outsourcing provides. Preventing in-house collusion is a common theme across many sectors. Moving that risk to an outsourcer, with fully trained professional invigilators, will become increasingly common.
4. Greater Scrutiny of E-Assessment Systems
Covid has forced regulators and exam owners to make decisions on e-assessment, not just kicking it into the long grass, and chucking it on the ‘too difficult on my watch’ pile.
The washback will be brand new commentators and decision makers peering under the hood. They’ll be asking strange questions. They may ask smart questions, and plenty of dumb ones as well! The community has a continuing duty to inform, educate and guide, no matter the scrutineer’s background, experience or understanding of E-Assessment.
5. No Impact?
How about no lasting impact? From the UK, there remains a myopic, narrow focus on school exams. The ‘Not Invented in School’ syndrome is looking increasingly ridiculous with the pandemic – front-line workers needing to pass an exam to do their job, apprentices trying to enter the workforce, all plugging into e-assessment to progress their careers.
However, the public at large craves normalcy and routine. They want their children to be ‘educated properly’, whatever that means. They give huge credence to the shorthand of exam grades.
Instead of transforming assessment through the ‘white heat of technology’, a quiet, pragmatic shuffle might be the best to hope for, with minimal impact. Policies that are deemed vote-winners for ‘levelling-up’ such as post-qualification admission for university or lifetime learning loans will drive change, not the two decades of e-assessment progress that we can evidence.
Our second contributor to this blog is assessment expert Matthew White, who is an expert in building assessments and managing the quality of assessments on a national scale. Visit the Avenida Consultancy to learn more about the services Matthew provides. Here are Matthew’s thoughts on the future assessment landscape:
Crises often accelerate trends that were already set in motion, but perhaps we had never seen. The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly disrupted assessments worldwide, but what the lasting impact will be above the financial hot to the sector, it is hard to say. I would hope in England that the external exams at 16 are shown to be anachronistic and that they disappear as the money spent on them could well be deployed elsewhere. I would also assume that remote invigilation received a huge boost during the pandemic, but haven’t seen any data to back that up yet.
Finally, what will awarding organisations that currently depend on income from delivering mass assessments in exam centres now do to protect revenue streams? Diversification of income streams seems to be the obvious mitigation against pandemics such as this, but into which markets and with which products?
Our next contributor is Graham Hudson, who is an International Examinations Delivery Practitioner at the GA Partnership Ltd. Graham is a long-standing member of the educational assessment community, having worked in the sector for 35 years.
Here are some predictions from Graham below:
During the past year, I have supported a number of organisations through the change of traditional modes of delivering assessment to online. It’s been an interesting and satisfying experience. Also, one of the benefits of working remotely has been the ability to talk with many people across the world in our industry and get their views on what is happening and the future look of the landscape. So, these are my four picks.
Credentialing or Professional Sector.
Many organisations had already made the move to online assessments or were in the process of doing so. The events of this year have accelerated that as many of those suppliers in the industry have told me – the phone did not stop ringing! A major driver has been the inability to hold examinations in physical locations and the rapid increase in the use of remote invigilation shows that. The lasting change here will be the online assessments and, as importantly, integration within organisations’ main systems. Remote proctoring will stay, but not entirely. Physical locations will still be used, but will probably be dictated by the type of examination or infrastructure in particular locations.
We know that many universities have been hard hit. Especially Australian universities that have relied upon students from the Far East. Estimates of losses for 2020 vary between AUD 3bn and AUD 5bn.
Will that recover? Maybe to some extent, but not entirely. Students have been starkly aware of the value for money that they receive from studying at university locations – where courses for many have been delivered remotely. Universities face a challenge of changing business models or becoming unviable.
The lack of infrastructure, resources, staff capability, campus co-ordination and training to deliver remote courses and assessment was shown very clearly. Some, like Reading and University College London in the UK were already well on the way – others have a distance to go.
The rigidity of many national systems has been highlighted this past year. In some cases, the ideological (rather than pedagogical) moves to focus on end-of-course examinations to the detriment of other, in-course assessments, has exacerbated the problem. All stopped in the UK for school and college examinations with no ‘Plan B’ in place and a system that could not adapt.
Nations, such as Egypt and FLIP+ are streaks ahead of countries like England. A change of paradigm will be needed to make much progress here. Wales, for example, are grasping that already.
These should figure more in national debate. I am a firm believer that only independent organisations really influence government policy here and the risk is often borne by them taking the initiative. Witness, many years ago, the Nuffield Schools projects – providing great benefits to many. My previous company, DRS Data Services Limited for example, invested millions in technology development. Do you know about Brightpath for example – using comparative judgement in the classroom? Of the entrepreneurial work of TeachSomebody supporting those without easy access to education?
Let’s not forget, though, that the changes should focus on making learning better – which technology surely can. Let’s hope that this once-in-a-generation impetus will not be squandered.
From the TestReach point of view, as you would anticipate, we saw a large increase in demand for online assessment and remote proctoring. What was required by each examining body varied. For clients already working with us to deliver computer-based exams in test centres, they switched to our remote proctoring delivery, which was a straightforward step as both test-only and remotely proctored delivery options are included in our solution. We noted that some examining bodies already had their exams on some type of online system, and only wanted to have a ‘plug in’ third-party proctoring solution, which was not something we offer due to concerns arounds security.
Most requests came from organisations who required a full online assessment software solution to store their questions, assemble exam papers, conduct online marking and moderation and issue results, as well as provide remote proctoring exam delivery. TestReach falls into this category – because we provide the software and the proctoring as an all-in-one solution. If these types of TestReach features may be of interest to your organisation, you can read more here.
If you’d like to read more about moving online and remote proctoring, and the benefits of this, just visit this page: Benefits of Remote Proctoring.