Online assessment practices in higher education How can colleges and varsities do it right

Online assessment practices in higher education: How can colleges and varsities do it right?

assessment is an integral part of the teaching-learning process. Covid-19 has made online assessment practices essential for higher education. During the pandemic period, teachers are desperately looking for online methods for accurately assessing learner’s knowledge, ability and skill.

There are diverse issues to be addressed such as how to proctor an online exam, how to avoid copying so that grades are allotted in a fair fashion, and how to get descriptive/step-wise answers through online exams.

A large number of attempts, from simple online questionnaire forms to browser-locking artificial intelligence-based software, have been adopted to address these issues. However, the question is, should we re-create all the existing offline assessment methods to a virtual platform or introspect a little and evolve more meaningful approaches?

Are you aware that you are assessing ‘transfer of learning?

Generally, most of the online/offline classes are taught through a lecture format. When information is provided through a lecture, the presumption is that students can receive the information, and process it sooner or later by interacting with the teacher/peers or working out the assignments/tutorial problem sets so that they will be ready for an assessment.

However, the number of assignments or tutorial classes is very low compared to the number of lecture classes. Further, in the current scenario, peer learning is nearly zero in any online platform.

More importantly, there are no opportunities for teachers to provide feedback on learner’s performance on practice sessions/ laboratory classes due to the shutdown.

Taken together, this leads to a situation, for an average learner, called cognition overloading. Such situations were present even during the pre-pandemic times, but it has become significantly huge since online learning started.

Here is the crux. Educational research has clearly shown that the learner’s ability to use the provided information, to near or far situations, cannot be generated automatically.

The skill required for this purpose is called ‘transfer of learning and the learner’s performance in assessment depends on how much preparedness the learner has on ‘transfer of learning.

In an assessment, this is the fundamental skill required. If the assessment questions directly address to what is taught in class, it is a ‘near transfer’ case and if the assessment context is largely unfamiliar, the situation is referred to as a ‘far transfer’.

The surprising fact is that teachers focus on improving neither ‘near transfer’ nor ‘far transfer’ skills of learners during course work, but demand these skills during the assessment! How unfair!

How can transfer skills be generated?

Average learners need large numbers of practice sessions or learning iterations, followed by feedback from an expert (teacher), to generate ‘transfer skill’.

In online/offline classes, if the learners are not specifically trained on ‘transfer skill’, they are likely not to perform high in assessments, however valuable may be the information provided through the lecture class!

Ideally, teachers should generate transfer skills during the course work by making learners practice what is to be learned followed by feedback from the teacher, before expecting all of them to perform high in assessment.

In simple language, equal or a greater number of practice classes should be there in the curriculum, compared to lecture classes, where teachers can test learners’ skills and provide valuable feedback to improve transfer skills

How can we do the online assessment differently?

Majority of courses are designed with an over-ambitious syllabus to be covered during a normal period, let alone in the new-normal! Why do we need such vast syllabus for each course?

After all, education is not about breadth of learning but how deeply each topic is learnt! If the learners are trained in their cognitive abilities for deep learning, along with transfer skills, they can learn any topic as and when it is required.

If we keep this idea in mind, instead of simply covering the content of a vast syllabus, teachers can assimilate two or three skill sets from the syllabus and use more time to prepare the learner’s ‘transfer skills’ and assess their progress during the course.

Equally important is to avoid the lengthy exams that are used in the offline mode. Instead, short, but frequent tests can be conducted which can be proctored.

It can be a viva to a selected group of students on every alternate day, and/or a proctoring test for 10 minutes on every week.

The advantage of the short and frequent tests is that teachers get time to provide feedback on these tests and the feedback improves the transfer skills of learners and prepares them better for the next level assessment.

There is a prevailing argument that tests/exams will increase the stress level of learners and hence all exams/tests should be canceled! Fear of an exam is essentially the fear of failure in the exam!

If the learners are aware of the skills to be tested, receive appropriate feedback on their performance (no bullying!), and also told that every test/exam is not graded/marked, learners seldom experience the unnecessary tension and pressure associated with assessment.

In summary, two things are important: (a) choose two to three major skills from the syllabus, and (b) design and execute a number of frequent, but short, assessment-feedback sessions, with a focus on promoting individual learners ‘transfer’ skills.

Different types of assessment methods suitable to the changing scenario should be thought of and continue them in the future if it serves the purpose.

Abandoning assessment practices during a new normal is abnormal! Remember, providing content-rich online lectures ensures teaching, but, only assessment and feedback can ensure learning!

.Courtesy – India Today

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