Eleven Drummers Drumming

Day 11. A broader definition of eAssessment. I can clearly remember the day, around 5 years ago, when I felt rather small at a conference because I was talking about my work with short-answer free text questions, and realised that everyone else was using the term ‘eAssessment’ to mean something rather different. The irony is that I’ve always had far broader interests in assessment  – I come from a tutoring background and my current ‘day job’, as an Open University staff tutor, means that I spend a lot of time getting our ‘correspondence tuition’ (marking and commenting on tutor-marked assignments) as good as possible. I have also been involved in the assessment of wikis and tutor group forum discussions. But somehow I didn’t see this as eAssessment…

So what else is there that is encompassed by a broader definition of eAssessment? You might get students to produce a website or a blog of their own; you might use wikis or online forums, either assessing contributions to these (and thus students’ contributions to the work of the group) or using peer or self assessment, or simply using them to engage your students in dialogue about the process; you might use ePortfolios or electronic peer assessment tools.

At the other end of the spectrum, the term ‘eAssessment’ also encompasses the electronic submission of work for marking by human markers, the electronic return of marks and comments and the online recording of scores. Because the Open University supports very large numbers of students, all over the world, our systems for these processes are well developed and I am occasionally amused to read papers describing systems that are on a par with what we have operated for many years. However, that doesn’t mean to say that we have solved all the problems, or indeed that we have taken full advantage of all aspects of e-submission.

Let’s consider the problems first. We haven’t fully solved the issues surrounding the submission and marking of work that includes a lot of symbols, in particular maths assignments. Students can waste a lot of time in producing these electronically and the tools that are probably best for electronic marking of work including symbols, diagrams, graphs etc (we use tablet PCs and tools such as PDF annotator) remain expensive. We haven’t really solved the issues surrounding online exams.

The big advantage of eSubmission is that work can be returned to students very quickly, without reliance on the postal system. We should also be able to take advantage of the system’s potential to deliver comments before grades, if we want to, or to monitor progress more closely (e.g. how many students have collected their marked work?) But haven’t really explored these options – yet!

So, across the board, eAssessment offers huge potential to learning.

Note: If you thought it was ‘Eleven Pipers Piping’ and’ Twelve Drummers Drumming’, fair enough.  Gifts 8-12 seem to occur in just about every order in one version or another of the rhyme. Definitely not a good theme for a computer-marked question!

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