Why aren't more professors Using Technology To Assess Student Learning

A vestige of a by-gone colonial era, our modern-day education system, with its outdated teaching methodology and questionable assessment modules, is in dire need of an overhaul. Although technology permeates our everyday lives, it is yet to impact our education system in an effective and meaningful manner. If one were to compare today’s classrooms to those 20 or 30 years back, there wouldn’t be any substantial difference in the way subjects were taught or the assessment methodologies adopted to gauge its effectiveness. The latter in particular has been completely unaffected by technology, and we are going to explore the reasons behind this.

Why the unwillingness to adopt technology-led assessments?

A majority of professors use technology primarily to better plan their lessons and make more engaging presentations. When it comes to tests or assessments, however, they opt for the same antiquated pen-and-paper routine. While it is understandable that you shun technology to assess a literature paper, it is difficult to understand why technology is not judiciously used to assess students of engineering or similar technical streams. Let’s look at some of the reasons and possible solutions to address them.

Lack of training

According to a 2006 study by Hew and Brush, one of the primary obstacles to adopting technology in classrooms was inadequate knowledge and skills. A prerequisite for using traditional software tools was a fair amount of technical know-how and skill. Those unfortunate ones who weren’t in possession of such skills had to be trained to use these tools, which was a time consuming and expensive affair and might explain the reluctance that most educational institutions have towards adopting such technology extensively. However, the newer breed of technology tools, with their intuitive designs and interface, and faster onboarding experience makes it effortless to adapt and adopt.

Pressure to confirm

The brave souls who do try to do things differently are almost always frowned upon by traditionalists, who are reluctant to change their ways. There are two possible outcomes to being subjected to this sort of pressure — they either keep fighting the good fight till others see merit in their newer ways, or they succumb to the pressure and give up. However, technology that is effortless to operate can help in turning even the hardest cynics into supporters of technical assessments

Changes needed at a policy level

In any classroom, there are typically two forms of assessments conducted — formative, conducted over the course of teaching to monitor student learning, and summative that are the standard tests or exams conducted at the end of a term or semester to evaluate student learning by comparing it against a benchmark. While colleges or schools can take liberties by conducting formative assessments to gauge how well a student understands a concept, it cannot substitute a tech assessment with a summative one that is conducted in accordance with the board of education, unless thus approved by the board. Changes at a policy level to technically transform traditional assessment, however, can ensure that our students are assessed effectively and comprehensively.

Test-centric mindset needs to change

At a very fundamental level, we define academic achievement by how well someone does on a standardized test. Our education system is also designed to help achieve better test results rather than helping students understand a concept clearly. Introducing a tech assessment model requires a shift in mindset where we assess the student to better understand his weak areas and strengths and then use those parameters to design teaching to be most effective. Most technical assessment tools come built-in with data-driven analytics that allows its users to comprehensively analyze the progress made by each student. Such comprehensive and relevant reports can go a long way in convincing our educators to change their approach towards assessments in general.

Advantages of using tech assessments in class

Creating assessments for the entire class, not once or twice a year but repeatedly year after year is a tedious routine that our teachers/professors undertake. However, their work doesn’t end there. After creating these assessments in a variety of forms, the next task is grading them and providing appropriate feedback for the entire class and that too, in a timely manner. It is in this context that digital tools come in handy.

Assessment and feedback lifecycle as described by Ros Smith and Lisa Gray

Authors Ros Smith and Lisa Gray’s 2016 guide on enhancing assessment through technology explains the lifecycle of assessment and feedback. According to them, most educators use technology mostly during the ‘Supporting’ stage of the lifecycle, whereas, technology can add considerable value at the ‘Submitting’, ‘Marking and production of feedback’ stages as well. For instance, during the submitting stage, not only can the software give reminders of an upcoming submission date, students can also conveniently submit their assignment online without having to physically hand-in their assignments. During the marking and feedback stages, educators are presented with the advantage of not having to carry around the bulky bundles of assessments, and instead access it online anywhere. Tech assessments also ensure consistency in marking, along with the option to provide written, audio or video feedback comments. Let’s explore a few other advantages of using technical assessment tools.

Built-in flexibility to assess an array of skills and competence

The design flexibility that most tech assessments come with, presents educators with the opportunity to assess a wide range of skills and competency in their students that are far and beyond what any standardized test can offer. Apart from testing students on a range of skills, this form of assessment makes it seem as close to real-world scenarios as possible.

Transparency in marking

Tech assessments typically come programmed with the option to specify marking criteria, based on which tests are typically graded. These criteria are transparent to all and make for an unbiased and impartial grading system.

Delivery schedule can be timed

Digital assessments tools can be customised to deliver assessments as per a specific schedule (bimonthly or weekly, for instance) with minimal input from teachers, thus offloading a lot of their workload. Apart from a delivery schedule, these assessments can be customised to automatically mark or grade the submissions, further reducing workload for the teachers and making the grading system more efficient.

Enables deeper learning

Thanks to the efficiency of such assessments coupled with its precise feedback, students, and teachers can target both strengths and weakness and promote deeper learning of concepts. This form of learning builds genuine interest to pursue a subject which also reflects in improved results in subsequent assessments.
Customisation for students with disabilities or learning difficulties

Technology can make it simpler for students with disabilities or learning difficulties to perform better during assessments by customising it as per their needs or requirements. For instance, one can opt to take the assessment in an audio/visual format, or customise the presentation of the assessment by tweaking the font, text size etc as per individual need, thus ensuring a level playing field for all those involved.

Other benefits
Apart from the above-mentioned benefits, tech assisted assessments also gives students the opportunity to access it from anywhere or anytime. Ease of customisation also ensures that based on statistics of performance, each course module can be tweaked as required. The timely manner in which results are published also enables teachers to review their lessons and courses much more effectively.

Using the right technology for the right purpose at the right time

While the merits far outweigh any drawbacks that this form of assessment has, the main concern many expresses is regarding the technical support required in an event of a software issue cropping up. This would delay a scheduled assessment from taking place and throw a spanner into a process that has been set in motion. There is also some concern about how technology can bring about a more pronounced student-teacher gap because of the high levels of automation possible in these tools. But what we all need to realize is that technology is a double-edged sword, there are bound to be several concerns over such a large-scale implementation, but if used judiciously and with discretion, it has the power to unlock a gold mine of opportunities.


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About the Author

Arpit Mishra
Avid book reading advocate. Hardcore travel nerd. Technology freak. Follow me on LinkedIn to get more Insights on Tech Recruitment.