Authentic assessment vs authentication of identity

This is a post on which I would particularly welcome comments. I am aware of the issues but distinctly lacking in solutions.

A couple of years ago I posted (here) about the fact that there are a range of skills (e.g. practical work) that are difficult to assess authentically by examination. So, in general terms, the answer is easy; we should assess these skills in better, more authentic ways. So we should be making less use of examations…

exam hallBut in our distance-learning environment, we have a problem. At some stage in a qualification, we really ought to check that the student we think we are assessing is actually the person doing the work. Examinations provide us with a mechanism for doing this; student identity can be checked in the good old-fashioned way (by photo ID etc.). In conventional environments, student identity can be verified for a range of other assessed tasks too, but that is much more difficult when we simply do not meet our students. At the Open University, exams are just about the only occasion when our students are required to be physically present in a particular place (and for students for whom this is not possible, the invigilator goes to them). So we should be making more use of examinations…

As in so many of the topics I post about in this Blog, there is a tension. What’s the way forward?

Here are a few of my thoughts, and those from some colleagues. We could:

1. review what we do in “examinations” to make the assessed tasks more authentic;

2. make greater use of open book exams;

3. tell students the questions in advance, and allow notes into an examination hall;

4. is there a technical solution? If we truly crack the issue of secure home exams at scale, then the assessed tasks could perhaps be longer and more open ended, with a remote invigilator just looking in from time to time;

5. Are there any other technical solutions?

6. moving away from examinations in the conventional sense, our Masters programmes sometimes require students to turn up for an assessment ‘Poster Day’. We have had some success in replicating this in a synchronous online environment.

7. we could have an examinable component that requires a student to reflect on collaborative work in forums. The student’s tutor could then check that the student has posted what they say they have posted throughout the presentation of the module.

8. Option (6) is essentially a viva. We could extend this approach by requiring every student (or a certain percentage) to have a conversation with their tutor or a module team member (by phone or Skype etc.) about their progress through the module/qualification.

We would be extremely grateful for comments and other ideas.

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4 Responses to Authentic assessment vs authentication of identity

  1. Hi Sally

    I’m not a fan of exams (particularly at level 1) as I think they are very unauthentic and students get so focussed on them (and their assignments) that this drives their whole learning strategy – which then becomes unauthentic, so there is a double whammy. Having said that I’ve seen some interesting practice from the OU, – actually having rocks in the S260 Geology exam, open book exams for S279 etc. One thing though, in S142 tutors are asked to look at their students EMAs to see if the writing style co-incides with their students’ TMAs – say if a student suddenly started writing perfect academic English we would be suspicious (assuming that they had written their own TMAs that is). I guess the key is, knowing the student and their work – the exam gives the OU a quick way to check the student is responsible for that piece of assessment. Other ways of assessing will always require more detailed knowledge about the student – that will need good use of tutors and their knowledge and may be more expensive?

    The Skype idea is a good one, although you still may need photographic ID to check that the student is the student. The idea that a student would get someone to sit in for them boggles my mind a bit, but I suppose that it’s possible…

  2. Sally Jordan says:

    Very many thanks for this Heather. Using ALs to confirm identity in this way is something we should definitely continue to do. However (in mind boggling territory again) we may need to do something to confirm that the person who does all the assessment tasks (i.e. TMAs as well as EMA) really is the student who gets the credit. I’m not sure how far we will be expected to take this. I guess we never really know whether any of our students are who they say they are…

  3. Joe says:

    Have you considered remote proctoring? We utilize it to deliver online examinations (timed) to student across the country/world at their convenience. The session is usually preceded by an ID verification (student shows ID, answers questions provided by Acxiom, a us based ID verification clearing house of credit info, essentially, previous billing address records).

    Works quite well. We do struggle with the writing samples mentioned which can be difficult though some biometric programs are now available for online ed which might be worthwhile investigating.

  4. Sally Jordan says:

    Many thanks for this Joe. We are exploring remote proctoring options at present.

    best wishes


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