Futurelab lit review on e-assessment (2004)

Futurelab, a UK technology and learning ‘thinktank’, commissioned this 2004 literature review (1) on e-assessment. In compiling the report, the authors (Jim Ridgway and Sean McCusker, School of Education, University of Durham and Daniel Pead, School of Education, University of Nottingham) have, not surprisingly, covered a lot of ground to do with assessment per se and not just its technologically-enabled version.

In talking about the use of e-portfolios, the report concludes that “Reliable teacher assessment is enabled. There is likely to be extensive use of teacher assessment of those aspects of performance best judged by humans (including extended pieces of work assembled into portfolios)” (ibid, page 2)… for me, hidden in this is the validity argument. It comes through reliability of teacher assessment, and extended pieces of work. Both of these should help validity I believe.

Section 1 of the report then talks of the nature of assessment – formative and summative. Throughout this the authors continually refer back to the purpose and validity of assessment. Also, the learner is placed at the centre of the the described processes. Of particular note for me is the mendacity quotient, whereby summative assessment often encourages students to actively hide what they don’t know.

Section 2 discusses how and where assessment should be driven, with the focus also on technology as the report is on e-assessment. There are some more generally-applicable points covered here though. “Metcalfe’s Law” of increasing value through networks is used to underpin the need to tie assessment into rapidly increasing technologically-enabled social networks. More simply, perhaps, the use of peer networks for assessment might also be part of this… My work aims to look at the validity of external assessment by using self and peer viewpoints as comparators. In addition to social changes, the report identifies other drivers on assessment change as globalisation, mass education, defending democracy and government-led policies. Here there is a disappointing (for me) relative sparsity of focus on the needs of the learner, although demands of lifelong learning are brought out in the section summary (ibid, page 9).

Section 3 discusses the developments in e-assessment. Or so its section heading states. Actually there is much in here about assessment in general and the need to make it relevant to learner needs and valid. “… some [developments] reflect a desire to improve the technical quality of assessment (such as increased scoring reliability), and to make the assessment process more convenient and more useful to users (by the introduction of on-demand testing, and fast reporting of results, for example).” (ibid, p15).

Under the heading “Opportunities and challenges for e-assessment”, section 4 is a rich vein of resources and opinion on the use of assessment to assess deeper level skills, understandings etc. While the summary of the section appears very parsimonious about what has been written, sub-section 4.1 is full of how assessment should be enabling learning.

Finally, the appendix on page 24 is a good overview of, to use its title, “The fundamentals of assessment” .

(1) Ridgway J, McCusker S and Pead D (2004) Literature Review of E-assessment: A Report for Futurelab [online PDF] available at http://www.futurelab.org.uk/download/pdfs/research/lit_reviews/
futurelab_review_10.pdf

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