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The impact of e-assessment

Posted 17th November 2014

Sally Jordan gave a keynote presentation on “Computer-marked assessment: Friend or foe?” at Dé Onderwijsdagen (“Education Days”) Pre Conference : “Digital testing” at the Beurs World Trade Center in Rotterdam on 10th November. There is much exciting work in e-assessment taking place in the Netherlands and Sally was delighted to be speaking to an audience of about 250 people, all of whom had chosen to come to a meeting about computer-based assessment and its impact on learning.  

Sally reports on two other, contrasting, educational conferences that she has attended in the past few months:


The city of DurhamThe delightfully named “ViCE/PHEC” (Variety in Chemistry Education/Physics Higher Education Conference) was held in Durham at the end of August. This annual conference for physicists and chemists with an interest in education and educational research has grown in size and improved in quality in recent years, and is attended by a large number of enthusiastic university teaching fellows.

The first keynote was given by Simon Lancaster from UEA and its title was “Questioning the lecture”. He started by telling us not to take notes on paper, but instead to get onto social media. Antje Kohnle’s keynote on the second day had a very different style. Antje is from the University of St Andrews and she was talking about the development of simulations to make it easier for students to visualise some of the counterintuitive concepts in quantum mechanics. The resource that has been developed is excellent, but the important point that Antje emphasised is the need to develop resources such as this iteratively, making use of feedback from students.

I attended two workshops and enjoyed both: (1) “Fostering learning improvements in physics”, a thoughtful reflection, led by Judy Hardy and Ross Galloway from the University of Edinburgh, on the implications of the FLIP Project; (2) the interestingly named (from a student comment) “I don’t know much about physics, but I do know buses” led by Peter Sneddon at the University of Glasgow, looking at questions designed to test students’ estimation skills and their confidence in estimation.

I gave a presentation on “Computer-marked assessment or learning analytics” and in sessions and informal discussion with colleagues, the topics that kept striking me were (1) the importance of student confidence; (2) reasons for underperformance (by several measures) of female students. A group of us are planning a workshop on work in this area for ViCE/PHEC next year. The cost of ViCE/PHEC is kept as low as possible and it was a great shame that I was the only person from the Open University to attend this year. This would be an excellent conference for those with a passion for teaching but who are relatively new to educational research.

The city of OxfordIn contrast, the EDEN (European Distance E-Learning Network) Research Workshop in Oxford in October was attended by many colleagues from the Open University, including experienced researchers from IET and KMI as well as at least one representative from each faculty. I thought that I would be annoyed by the format for talks at the EDEN Research Workshop, with just a few minutes to present followed by time to discuss ideas further with a small group of people, but this format was extremely effective. I gave a presentation and led a discussion based around the outcomes of the eSTEeM-led evaluation of the Science Faculty’s move to formative thresholded assessment. Further information about this project is available at and there are further reflections on ViCE/PHEC, the EDEN Research Workshop and Dé Onderwijsdagen on my blog “e-assessment (f)or learning” at