If lower-order learning is an unintended educational consequence of on-line assessment, then any perceived or real gains made in efficiency, staff workload reduction and/or cost savings are at a questionable price.’
Why consider on-line assessment? A good deal of investigation and development is underway in Australian universities into the possibilities for effective and efficient on-line and computer-based assessment. The current commercial ‘virtual learning environments’, which integrate various curriculum elements at subject level into a single software portal, usually offer various built-in options for student assessment. As well, many on-line assessment initiatives are being locally developed to suit specific curriculum needs.
There are many reasons why on-line assessment is being adopted by Australian universities. Many academics are seeking to diversify assessment tasks, broaden the range of skills assessed and provide students with more timely and informative feedback on their progress. Others are wishing to meet student expectations for more flexible delivery and to generate efficiencies in assessment that can ease academic staff workloads. All staff involved in such initiatives are discovering they face a large number of technical and educational decisions. my sandbox The move to on-line and computer based assessment is a natural outcome of the increasing use of information and communication technologies to enhance learning. As more students seek flexibility in their courses, it seems inevitable there will be growing expectations for flexible assessment as well.
At the same time, in a climate of increasing academic workloads, the adoption of on-line assessment may help to manage large volumes of marking and assessment-related administration efficiently. The automation of routine on-line tasks, in particular, may have the potential in the long-term to provide time/cost-efficient student assessment, though the present evidence suggests that some on-line assessment, at least in the early stages, can add significantly both to staff workload and to overall expenses.
Is on-line assessment improving the assessment of student learning? The major educational question to be answering is whether on-line assessment is having any influence on the quality of teaching and learning. Such a broad judgement is difficult to make, but there are growing educational concerns with current developments. While ICTs have certainly opened up significant possibilities for transforming the role and practice of assessment in higher education, the full possibilities are probably yet to be realised. There is some evidence that on-line assessment, unless carefully planned, can encourage students to focus on lower level cognitive skills. The educational effectiveness of on-line assessment that concentrates primarily or exclusively on true/false or multiple choice responses, for example, is highly questionable in a higher education environment . As is widely known, such approaches to assessment can have direct negative effects on student approaches to learning by encouraging narrow reproduction rather than the development of higher order cognition that involves, for example, critical evaluation.
If lower-order learning is an unintended educational consequence of on-line assessment, then any perceived or real gains made in efficiency, staff workload reduction and/or cost savings are at a questionable price.