Continuous Assessment and the Impact of Technology

Assessment has been an integral part of our education system through the ages and across the globe. So what do we mean by assessment? When we talk about assessment, we mean any measure a teacher might use to determine students’ understanding and mastery of skills and content. We don’t just mean the traditional methods of evaluation (e.g. the tests, quizzes, or exams, though those are important types of assessment) but also papers and research projects, presentations and experiments, demonstrations and debates and many such ways assessment can be conducted (depending on the learning objectives). Assessment includes all of the formal and informal techniques instructors use to determine how students have progressed in their learning at any particular moment in time. It is an important form of feedback for students, and it is an essential element of progress monitoring for teachers. 

So what makes an assessment effective? While we can have both formative and summative kinds of assessments, the continuous assessments is probably what helps in aiding the learning process and enabling the formative environment where learning can truly flourish. This is not to undermine the importance of summative assessments (or the more formal “end of year” kind of assessments) as that has its own valid place in the flow of education. The ongoing assessments help the educators understand how much of the learning objectives and the instructional design is actually working for the students.

To summarize, the value of continuous assessment for instructors lies in getting the data for student performance as that can provide useful insights on the validity of the instruction and assessment design. For students, the value of continuous assessment lies in the opportunity to learn from mistakes and correct them; each round of assessment provides another opportunity to receive critical feedback. To know more about how this cycle of formative feedback can positively impact the overall learning process, refer to this research by John Hattie (Hattie and Temperley, 2007).  

This is where the adoption of the right tools and technology might help. Technology can help in:

  1. Execution of continuous assessments for large groups of students and in any mode of operation (online, offline or hybrid)

  2. Easier and faster grading and sharing of results/outcome with students and educators

  3. Collation of useful data from the outcome of these assessments that can provide valuable insights to help educators understand the validity of their instruction and assessment content and designs as well as achievement of the learning objectives for the students

  4. Help in achieving assessment integrity, particularly if the execution is in the online mode

  5. For certain assessments of higher order thinking and application, technology can be the key enabler e.g. simulations

We can look at the SAMR model to understand the natural progression of technology adoption in this aspect.Popularized by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, the model supports and enables teachers to design, develop, and infuse digital learning experiences that utilize technology. All of us start with no tech at some point in time.  The S and A deals with the first time use(Substitution) of some technology and then starting to use it to refine(Augmentation) an existing process (without any real change). The paradigm shifts when we move to the Modification(M) & Redefinition(R) phases when true transformation happens through technology adoption. It is important to be aware that  the levels in the model should not be viewed as one level being superior to  another, but rather it should be viewed as a spectrum of options for technology integration into teaching practice. The objective is to upgrade the learning experiences so they result in higher levels of achievement for students. However, as with the use of any technology tool, any technology you adopt should lead to an improvement in achieving the desired learning outcomes for the students; otherwise it may not be worth the effort and cost.

The Gradescope from Turnitin is one such tool that enables effective assessment (and learning) by helping educators seamlessly execute continuous assessments in a format of their choice:

  1. Offline worksheet based assessment

  2. Homework Assignment

  3. Online Assessment (with multiple choice, free response, short answer and file upload)

  4. Bubble Sheets

  5. Coding assignments

The tool enables consistent,fair and fast grading, sharing of outcomes as well as easy access to insightful data that can enable educators to make informed decisions around their teaching content and design.Gradescope also makes it more efficient and effective to provide critical formative feedback to students.

Another example can be video recording that can make assessments (for application) through role play more effective as educators have the option of re-visiting the various aspects involved (while watching a video) that may not be feasible while watching the same play live. There are various ways like browser lock-down and online proctoring that can help with maintaining assessment integrity in the online environment.Authentic assessment is key to gaining insightful data from the assessments for the instructors as well as for the students to get a clear understanding of how much they have learnt. While the assessment design plays the most important role in ensuring this, a tool that can help the instructors maintain assessment integrity can be really helpful in making the assessment more effective.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged schools to question their assessment practices and grading policies. There are questions around knowledge retention and application, around student motivation to self correct and self learn and also around fair grading and teaching practices. We are not here to provide definite answers to all these questions as I don't believe there is any one answer to any of these. These are complex challenges with many components, and they require nuanced solutions to truly address all aspects.

To summarize and reflect, it is important to note that if the students did not learn, then the teacher did not teach. Students will showcase their learning through assessment. Assessment for learning is more important than assessment of learning and there is no best way to learn; it is really very subjective. Educators should focus more on what students have learnt and not on grades. Assessments should be viewed as a positive tool to aid the learning process by students and teachers & students, together, make the process of continuous assessment a form of continuous learning both for the students and the teachers.


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