Thursday, February 20, 2020

Assessments taken on-line

I had a really interesting experience the other evening when a colleague took over part of my on-line evening class to establish the ground for the students to take their tests online. At NCI we use a proctored system called RPNow, which basically records everything a student does if they take the test remotely. It makes it easy for us to detect if anyone is cheating, and therefore protects the integrity of our assessments. However, it can be a bit daunting for students to take a test like this for the first time. We gave the students a short mock test during the class - some completed it in 5 minutes, while others experienced a lot of technical difficulties and didn't even get to start the test after an hour.

All this begs the question: "Should students take proctored tests on-line?".

Let's first take a step back. The primary purpose of assessment is to “foster learning of worthwhile academic content for all students” (Wolf, Bixby, Glenn, & Gardner, 1991). In the year 605 AD, Imperial China introduced a strict system of assessment officially called the “Imperial Examination”, which was better known as “The Forest of Pencils”. This tough examination was designed to select the best administrative officials for the empire’s civil service. This assessment was found to be the best way to recruit civil servants – the best people were selected according to results, bribery and corruption were moved aside (Buckley Ebrey, 2010). Assessment has been part of education for centuries – there is no escaping it. So today should be no different?

It should be noted that most students are going to pass exams anyway. In the normal distribution below (Kashyap, 2019) you can see that less than 7% of students fail (F grade). Of course not all grading results in a bell-shaped curve like this, but it gives you a breakdown of what to expect. So if we know that 93% of students are going to pass, why bother with tests? For on-line students, why bother with tests with the added pressure of ensuring technology is working?

Image source: Ravi Kashyap.
In courses that I am involved with, most marks come from Continuous Assessment. For on-line courses, I feel that a good case can be made for assessing all Learning Outcomes with continuous assessment, and assignment/project work. I know that a lot of programmes do this already - right up to Masters level. Something for us to consider with new and updates to NCI programmes.

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