How could technology enabled assessments improve both learning and teaching?

Find ways to measure what we truly value and not just what is easy to measure.

Joysy John CEO at 01Founders

Good assessment is about measuring what is relevant to the outcomes desired. It should do no harm to the learners and should have a positive impact on learning. Assessments need to be valid, fair and reliable. Assessment is an integral part of learning and teaching as it measures what we want students to learn.

Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck recommends praising students for the processes they use – engagement, perseverance, strategies, improvement – rather than hints at innate talent.

Students often see school as a place where they perform for teachers who then judge them. The growth mind-set changes that perspective and makes school a place where students actively engage in learning for their own benefit. Feedback on effort rather than on their intelligence can help learners build self-confidence, fosters motivation, increases willingness to take on new challenges, and results in higher levels of success.

Purpose of assessment

The purpose of assessments range from enhancing the learning experience, certifying evidence of skills and monitoring learning for individuals. There are three types of assessments and these are distinguished by their purpose, timing, and test design:

  1. Diagnostic assessments help inform educators what to teach and are timed to classify students or to determine access to special services. They are designed by experts, rigorously developed and administered in ways that assure that the test scores and their interpretation have high degrees of reliability, validity, and fairness. For example, IELTS test assesses listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.
  2. Summative assessments are designed to quantify achievement to date in a given academic domain and their purpose is assessment of learning. These are standardized tests that are usually administered at a specific point in time – end of an academic school year or completion of a course. These are often seen as ‘high stakes exams’ where the results are used to make evaluative judgements about suitability for further study or a job. For e.g, SATs and A-Levels.
  3. Formative assessments are designed to generate data useful for guiding instruction and personalising learning. Their purpose is assessment for learning and is integrated into the teaching process. These test results provide immediate feedback to teachers and students about how much of the recently taught material has been learned. For example, daily or weekly tests during learning.

However, when assessing learners in groups there are other factors to consider:

  • whether to assess the process or the product of group work
  • whether to assess group performance vs individual performance
  • whether peers assess each others’ contributions to the group

Role of technology

Over the last year we have seen increased adoption of technology in our schools and universities necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology has huge potential to improve learning and teaching but also involves risks around unequal access, privacy and data control.

Technology can enable us to assess the process and the outcome of learning as well as measure hard to assess skills. The data generated can be used to personalise learning and assist teachers in providing better feedback to their learners. For example, adaptive learning platforms like CENTURY, Sparx, MangaHigh, Educake, Ecree use artificial intelligence (AI) to make decisions about the best pathway through learning materials for a specific student based on their strengths and gaps in knowledge. It supports teachers through built-in assessment tools that reduce teacher workload and data analytics dashboards that provide insights on student and class progress.

Future shape of assessments

The education system will need to move away from its emphasis on a stop and test approach that can only assess the routine skills that are easy to automate and are likely to be the least in demand in the workplace. New forms of assessment that target hard to assess skills will need to be developed. When students work collaboratively to solve problems on a computer, a wealth of data can be collected including detailed activity logs. This would help us to not just measure the outcome but also the process of learning.

Today’s Edtech tools are a long way off being able to assess the whole spectrum of skills and attributes that we wish to develop in young people – from creativity and wellbeing to problem solving and collaboration. Though there are promising signs. For example, Edulai and Skills Builder are tools to develop and assess ‘employability skills’, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication and leadership.

Impact of technology

These new Edtech and AI-based platforms can empower students to take responsibility for their own learning – gaining insights into their own strengths and areas for improvement – and support teachers to provide timely feedback, appropriate support, and tailored learning.

To ensure that Edtech empowers, rather than controls, we must treat assessment data responsibly and combine it with human insights. Edtech can support more frequent low-stakes testing and provide teachers with easily actionable suggestions on how to improve practice.

Actions we can take to fulfill the promise of technology while minimising the risks are:

  • Identify new methods for broadening the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of assessments
  • Implement pilots for collective intelligence combining human expertise and assessment data
  • Emphasise formative assessment over summative assessment to support learning

Let’s reimagine the design of our learning and assessment system so that it is fit for the future!

About the author

Joysy is passionate about education, entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment. She is the former-Director of Education at Nesta and former-CIO of Ada, the National College for Digital Skills. She was appointed by the Department of Education to the Edtech Leadership Group and by the Welsh Government to the expert panel on Schooling Reimagined in 2019. She left her banking career in 2012 to change education after spending a decade working across Singapore, US and UK. She holds a Computer Engineering (Honours) degree from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and an MBA with Distinction from London Business School.

Joysy John is the CEO of 01Founders, tuition-free coding centres with a job-guarantee to improve diversity in tech.

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