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The pandemic has initiated radical changes in education as schools quickly transitioned to online and remote learning. We have seen educators and administrators across the Asia Pacific region and indeed the world, make creative use of the tools and technology available to them, to minimise learning disruptions for students. This has yielded many lessons about best practices for integrating technology into classrooms and opportunities for educators to understand the approaches that are most effective in supporting meaningful learning outcomes. Nowhere was this transition more pronounced than in assessing student learning.
In my role as Assessment Solutions Consultant, I have witnessed much change and innovation in assessment and exam delivery by institutions during pandemic-led learning. Beyond the logistics of running assessments, they’re reimagining how best to measure student learning in online and blended environments with new pedagogical approaches, and confronting factors such as security, integrity, and equity challenges. In charting the evolution of assessment for new learning environments thus far, I attempt to address the fundamental question; where to next?
For decades, assessments and exams have been centred on gauging students' rote memory of what is taught, along with the focus on students achieving the best grades through high-stakes, summative tests that determine their passing of a class and entry into university programmes. The disruption to this model by moving assessments, and especially examinations online, helped to expose its limitations as well as uncovering new e-cheating activities - such as collusion and even impersonation - that undermine student learning. Although steps had been taken prior to the pandemic to dismantle the didactic approach to teaching and particularly the long-standing ‘lecture’ format, the pandemic has added urgency and demonstrated value, on a much larger scale.
This inflection point in education has led educators to ask: 'are we measuring learning outcomes in the best way?’ In response, they’re considering changes in their pedagogical approach to ensure that students can prove their knowledge and understanding in a more authentic and inclusive manner - whether it’s embedding more higher-order thinking in assessments or boosting asynchronous learning opportunities - that prepares them for the world beyond schooling. There is a real need for authentic assessment moving forward, to mimic what they’ll be doing in a real-life scenario, and I’m reminded of Dr Preman Rajalingam’s perspective in an episode of Turnitin's Integrity Matters vidcast on how an over-reliance on traditional assessment methods yields “inauthentic assessments that exist in a university and nowhere else”.
If the last 2 years have taught us anything, it’s that we need to be more flexible, open-minded and innovative in our approach to learning and assessment for the digital age. It’s encouraging to see academic institutions exploring new grading policies, variations in assessment modes that are better suited to online and blended learning environments, and eschewing their reliance on summative assessment in favour of more ongoing, low-stakes assessment that enables greater formative feedback. If we continue to pursue such responsive assessment practices instead of reverting back to the well-worn path, it will help deliver more meaningful outcomes for students as they enter the workforce; equipped with a mastery of the skills they need to succeed.
Many institutions are exploring a learner-focused approach to teaching which is a really positive step in supporting meaningful, less abstract assessment that engages learners and equips them with practical skills. What I would also encourage institutions to do is to build in the capacity for academics to start working with students to co-design assessments, for the utmost relevance to student outcomes. This is echoed by academics at institutions such as the University of Queensland, who are also encouraging educators to incorporate more opportunities to work directly with students to co-design course curriculum and assessments. The premise is that students will become more invested in their learning and engagement with peers and instructors, course materials will be strengthened, and learning outcomes will ultimately improve.
My background as a learning designer is infused in my role as an Assessment Solutions Consultant in the edtech space, and I feel that I’ve come full circle in exploring the role of technology in enhancing the teaching and learning experience. It makes me reflect on the common misconception amongst educators and education professionals that technology design invariably puts technology before pedagogy. Quite the contrary, I’ve found that well-designed, best-in-class edtech solutions involve a great deal of consultation with academics to integrate the two and ensure that pedagogy is never taking a backseat to the technology intended to facilitate it.
Of course, there is continued work to be done around consultation with academics and encouraging their more explicit say on the design of technology to help shape its creation, before it is deployed in an institution. In light of technology’s contribution during the pandemic, we are now hopefully overcoming any sense of a dichotomy between technology and pedagogical practices. To this end, Amy B. M. Tsui and Nicole J. Tavares have pointed to “the dynamic relationship between the two and the complex systemic nature of the classroom, or more broadly, the learning environment, both physical and virtual."
Indeed, an investment in edtech ensures that educators can strategically adapt a variety of assessment principles and formats for remote learning, and I firmly believe that digital solutions can be complementary to the 5 major approaches to pedagogy - constructivist, collaborative, integrative, reflective and inquiry-based learning. Operationally, edtech can also help educators avoid spending excessive amounts of time on activities like grading, and deliver feedback more frequently, and with greater consistency.
This all feeds into the overarching aims to achieve student learning outcomes and satisfy institutional efficiencies, but how can institutions critically evaluate and balance stakeholder needs in technology delivery? Learning designers can play a key role in this endeavour to align pedagogical best practices with technology output, by working as a conduit between learning and teaching-focused academics, students, administrators and even technology providers. In demand during the pivot to remote learning, the relevance of the learning designer will only continue as we rethink and reimagine our approach to assessment. Finally, institutions must also seek to minimise digital inequities and issues of access if we are to reach technology’s full potential as an enabler for education.