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JISC guide on assessment in a digital age

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The ‘Effective Assessment in a Digital Age‘ guide is a product of JISC’s E-Learning Programme.

Received by email:

“Most of us have had formal or informal feedback throughout our lives. The way in
which we have been assessed very likely has had a fundamental effect on our learning and career progression. Assessment is one of the most important parts of learning and teaching and whether institutions get this right or wrong has a huge impact on students’ lives and careers.

JISC’s new guide, Effective Assessment in a Digital Age, demonstrates how
technology can significantly improve the experience of assessment and feedback. As
many higher education institutions are reviewing their assessment strategies, JISC
is looking at the transformative effects of technology that increase learner
autonomy, enhances the quality of the assessment experience and improves teaching

“Why do we still insist that students, who mostly use technologies such as
laptops and mobile phones when researching their assignments, sit down with pen and paper and write long essays when they are assessed?” asks Ros Smith, the author
of the guide. “This one size fits all view of assessment still dominates.
Perhaps instead we should be thinking much more creatively and be inspired by what technology can do. There are huge benefits to be gained, for example, in giving students choice over assignment formats, allowing them either to write a 5000 word essay on a topic or to put together a video or audio piece that explores different points of view. Students disadvantaged by traditional written assessments will clearly benefit from this approach but everyone gains if the use of different media prompts deeper thought around the topic.”

In addition, educational researchers since the 1990s have increasingly argued that
assessment should be used to support learning rather than just test and certify
achievement. This has shifted the emphasis from the teacher to the learner, as David
Nicol, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Strathclyde, explains:
“We tend to think of feedback as something a teacher provides, but if students are
to become independent lifelong learners, they have to become better at judging their
own work. If you really want to improve learning, get students to give one another
feedback. Giving feedback is cognitively more demanding than receiving feedback.
That way, you can accelerate learning.”

Technology provides ways of enabling students to monitor the standards of their own
work. The technology can be designed for the purpose (such as on-screen assessment
delivery systems or originality checking software) or adopted from a pool of widely
available generic and often open source software and familiar hardware (such as
digital cameras or handheld devices). Sarah Davies, JISC e-Learning Programme
Manager, says: “Technologies such as voting systems, online discussion forums,
wikis and blogs allow practitioners to monitor levels of understanding and thus make
better use of face-to-face contact time. Delivery of feedback through digital audio
and video, or screen-capture software, may also save
time and improve learners’ engagement with feedback.”

Effective Assessment in a Digital Age outlines some of the key benefits:
• better dialogue and communication that can overcome distance and time constraints
• immediate and learner-led assessment through interactive online tests and tools
in the hand (such as voting devices and internet connected mobile phones)
• authenticity through online simulations and video technologies and risk-free
rehearsal of real-world skills in professional and vocational education
• fast and easy processing and transferring of data
• improved thinking and ownership through peer assessment, collection of evidence
and reflection on achievements in e-portfolios;
• making visible skills and learning processes that were previously difficult to
measure; and
• a personal quality to feedback, even in large-group contexts.

For accessible Word and PDF versions of Effective Assessment in a Digital Age and
full versions of the publication’s case studies visit: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/digiassess
For details of online resources associated with this publication, visit:
For information about the JISC e-Learning programme, visit:


Written by Mira Vogel

September 6, 2010 at 18:22

Posted in assessment

Tagged with ,

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