How to Use Assessment to Empower Learners

In their book 500 Tips on Assessment, Race, Brown and Smith wrote: “Nothing that we do to, or for, our students is more important than our assessment of their work and the feedback we give them on it. The results of our assessment influence our students for the rest of their lives and careers – fine if we get it right, but unthinkable if we get it wrong.”

At SOWISO we believe that technology can be a great tool to help with assessment, but we understand it is controversial too. Take this article by the New York Times for example, which talks about anti-cheating software which uses webcams to constantly watch and keep track of the physical appearance of students in front of their monitors. One student called it ‘excessive’ and ‘intrusive.’ Other articles talk about the large risk of mistakes in computerized marking.

The Human Element in Assessment

In my opinion, digital assessment works best when it doesn’t try to replace the teacher. Online assessment can offer consistent, accurate results, but most importantly, it offers opportunities to combine human and computer marking. Instead of relying solely on e-assessment, teachers can for isntance act as a second reviewer to add value to the marking the software has done, while still saving time.

Secondly, e-assessment is a fantastic tool to innovate formative assessment: assessments during the learning process. This greatly helps to monitor student learning and provide ongoing feedback, in preparation for the final exam.

So what are tools you can use to effectively implement e-assessment?

Empower Your Students

Most of the answer can be found in the way students learn.
iStock_000040518384Large-e1431612529569When you’re using your computer, you can easily copy and paste a file in a different folder, which gives you a perfect duplicate of the original. Learning is a little bit different; when a teacher explains the definition of complex numbers, or explains the importance of the Battle of Waterloo, he hasn’t transmitted perfect copies of his understanding of the subject into the brains of his students. Unlike in The Matrix, students have a whole lot of work to do to make this information their own. A large part of learning has to do with internalising information and making a judgement about your own work.

We can accelerate this process by empowering students, and we can use formative assessment to give students the agency they deserve. There are many ways of reaching this. For instance, you can implement a reporting environment which allows students to see and reflect on their achievements in a given course. An example of this is e-portfolios in which students can zoom in and out on their learning and see evidence for why they received. This removes the idea of failure, especially when students are rewarded with each little bit of progress.

Automated feedback can help fill up an e-portfolio as they do exercises and mock exams. This immediate feedback helps students understand the way they’re approaching problems and how to improve, allowing students to rapidly correct misconceptions and guide further study. Furthermore, when the algorithm randomizes variables in the exercises, the student can practise indefinitely. In other words, automated feedback makes for personal formative assessments. It’s best to make it a step-by-step system with achievable goals at the end of each step.

A third way to empower learners is to have them give feedback to one another. By enabling students to think about the work of others and provide tips – a more demanding task than receiving feedback – they have to think critically and actively about their own understanding of the coursework. You can do this for instance by implementing an online forum where students can help each other, or a similar environment where students can ask questions.

In Conclusion

I think the quote by Race, Brown and Smith does a great job of showing both the importance of assessment, as well as the importance of the teacher in providing feedback. What this means is that we need to think critically about how we introduce technology in our classroom. This means not just thinking about where to draw the line, but taking a step back and rethink the role of digital assessment.

What are your experiences with assessment? Where does it go wrong and what does it do right?
We’d love to hear from you to talk about this (for example on FacebookLinkedIn or Twitter)!

Let’s talk again soon,



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