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What is the future for Student Assessments, Examinations, and Invigilation?

There are lots of different ways to assess students’ abilities. Organisations can use traditional methods with pen-and-paper exams, online assessments, or take-home papers. But with technology developing in leaps and bounds, which methods are the most sustainable or future-proof?

John J Assessments

Traditional Assessments

To begin we will examine Traditional Assessments. This would involve a pen-and-paper examination. Students would study throughout the year, do some assignments, and then go into an examination hall, sit down, and write answers to questions based on their knowledge of a subject. But does this give a true measure of the student’s ability? They are in examination halls for a period of two hours or so, where is the room for reflection? Or a considered opinion?

With the development of technology and smaller devices, it is becoming increasingly difficult to invigilate examination hall scenarios. In the past, up to the late 90’s mobile phones were rarely seen, even up to pre-covid phones were barred from venues. However, more recently, students are allowed to have their phones in an exam area, albeit turned off. But phones aren’t the biggest issue. Students may have smartwatches, smaller devices or even smart glasses. Are invigilators going to have to start checking phones, watches and glasses? What happens when they develop smart contact lenses? It would seem that with the development of technology, the examination hall is heading for the archives of academic history.

Online assessments

Online assessments were used by companies for psychometric tests for job seekers long before they entered the educational realm. The model was adapted to education during the pandemic. There are two methods of invigilation for these assessments. First, there is an exam where the student confirms their identity by holding up their student identity card near their face and the webcam confirms their identity, they are then free to proceed with the exam online. Then there is the strict version. The student has to prove their identity as before, but then they have to briefly give a 360-degree view of their home study space by moving their webcam or PC around their space. They must have their webcam on for the duration of the exam. It sounds flawless, as the student is observed from start to finish, but there are limitations. With the development of Augmented Reality are we really seeing the student or their room? Also, it still puts a lot of pressure on the student as they must perform in the moment with no real time to consider or reflect.

Take Home Exams/Papers

This method of examination is usually implemented for students who are studying in the evenings, or in interdisciplinary modules where it would be next to impossible to organize an exam hall version. Students study as normal throughout the year and at the end of the term, the lecturer gives the students their examination paper to take with them and a certain amount of time in which to complete it, for example, 6 days. Students can use their texts and even do a little research. It also gives the student a little more time for reflection. Of course, there is always the risk of students using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Chat GTP for their answers, and because the work is done at home, it is impossible to invigilate. Yes, there are AI-checking programs, but not every institution will have access to them.

A Possible Solution

When a student progresses to Masters or Doctorate level, the whole idea of examination or assessment disappears. It is purely papers and research. This method of research is as old as time itself. Perhaps if institutions apply a type of research ethos to undergraduates or high schools it will take the pressure off the students and the examiners will be better able to glean their progress. For example, if the student is told at the start of the year that they have to produce a certain assignment by the end of term, their progress can be tracked in stages as they learn more and develop their ideas. This makes it a lot easier to discern whether or not the student is authentically learning. It also gives time for reflection and the student will be producing an individual assignment different in theme to their peers which allows them to take ownership of their paper and become more invested in their studies.

It appears that technology influences examinations and invigilation to the point where no system is perfect. However, technology can’t be blamed 100% for students circumventing invigilators; there are all sorts of stories about students eluding examiners throughout the decades. Perhaps the motivation for their behaviour is based on a flawed examination process. If students are working for a year and then expected to reproduce two terms of information in two hours, that is a lot of pressure. Maybe the system itself is faulty? However, these obstacles can be overcome by introducing a more research-centric ethos to exams, which involves the students in the development of their assignments and gives them more time for reflection, understanding and involvement, and removes a weight of pressure from students, lectures and examiners alike.

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The author

Dr. John Jennings is an educational theorist from Galway, he has a PhD in TESOL with research in Social-Media and Education. He has researched the perceptions that students have of Social-Media in Education and how it affects their interaction with the academic world. He is also an avid virtual runner

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