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Online Assessments - the cost of lagging behind

July 22, 2019

Do your learners have the option of computer-based testing? With benefits such as reduced administration time for teachers, technology-enhanced content and more flexibility for learners, it’s easy to see why online assessments have made their mark in assessment pedagogy. Yet surprisingly, the majority of RTOs are still playing catch up when it comes to the authoring and delivery of online assessments.

As the cost of lagging behind technology becomes increasingly painful, it’s time to get serious about where we’re at and where we need to be, to realise the full potential of digital technology for innovative assessment.

Where we’re at after a century of assessment 

The roots of computer-based testing (CBT) and its derivative methods, such as adaptive testing, go back more than 100 years to the work of famed psychologist Alfred Binet. Alfred, a French psychologist, developed the very first IQ assessment in the early 1900s. Referred to as the Binet-Simon Scale, this assessment became the basis for intelligence tests still in use today. 

In 1989, Bunderson, Inouye and Olsen observed, “The changes brought about by the wide availability and low cost of new technological delivery system alternatives are moving testing from its delivery, through paper-and-pencil and printed booklets to delivery through online computer work-stations". Yet 30 years on, with huge advances in ICT and a generation of research on cognition and new pedagogical strategies, the field of assessment has not progressed much beyond those pen to paper tests, whose fundamental model was developed a century ago!

As discussion intensifies over the importance of skilling for a digital economy, the popularity of online assessment tools is lagging in vocational education and training. To be sure, new technologies have been incorporated into vocational education testing over the decades; the latest buzz words being virtual reality, gamification and artificial intelligence. But without going so far, our conservative estimate is that about 75% of RTOs are still assessing using paper-based approaches and/or have a separate system to manage this process. Most of these applications, generally speaking, cannot be integrated with current competency reporting systems.

Woodworking Students

Where we need to be - skilled for a digital future

The uptake in online assessment within VET is concerning given that students will need to employ a growing assortment of cognitive skills in order to perform and solve problems in digital environments. The ‘digital skills gap’ has been identified as a major issue facing Australian businesses (see NCVER report ‘Skilling the Australian Workforce for the Digital Economy’). A recent study by organisational consulting firm Korn Ferry reveals that by 2020, Australia will have a shortage of 739,000 highly skilled workers. By 2030, the shortfall is forecast to increase to 2.2 million.

We need a technologically savvy workforce equipped with transportable digital skills. The increasing use of digital tools in the workplace is reason enough to integrate new technologies throughout training and assessments. Today’s learners are not only ‘socially mobile’ but increasingly demand flexible and on-demand education and training. This is even more reason it’s no longer enough to use online learning solely for delivering course content. If the assessment component is antiquated and the experience for the student is less than satisfactory, the training provider will eventually suffer.

Compliance pains

Many RTOs find online assessment challenging, particularly because of the specific requirements of a competency-based assessment system driven by industry standards. Unlike higher education, the VET sector requires assessments that collect evidence of competence across skill areas, as opposed to an assessment of a body of knowledge underpinning a discipline area. 

What we have is a situation where most training providers continue to use paper-based assessments that are highly time-consuming and ineffective. It is commonplace to hear of trainers or assessors taking home student assessments to mark at night because they simply do not have time during the day.

Furthermore, the experience of antiquated paper-based testing for the student is less than satisfactory as the skills they are learning are often practical and ‘hands-on’ and therefore require multiple forms of assessment that suit the student’s learning style. Sitting in a training room completing a written paper-based assessment doesn’t alone identify the student’s ability to perform tasks. 

ASQA requires RTOs to conduct effective assessments (clause 1.8 - 1.12). But it’s not surprising that this is the number one area where training providers in Australia fail their compliance audits. Non-compliance is arguably the most complex and time-consuming process within a training business. If the costs of manual handling for paper-based assessments are thrown into the mix, it is no wonder that assessment compliance is a common source of stress!  

Online Assessment Tablet

Benefits of online assessment

The demands of digital technology have changed and will continue to change how assessments are mapped and delivered. Now more than a century in the making, it’s time to embrace these changes to create better competency based testing within the VET sector.

Work-based assessors can now assess a student's competency anywhere, anytime using a mobile device of choice. Online assessment can also be deployed in online and offline modes, making it possible to assess a worker in remote locations in real-time whether there is internet connection or not. This means assessors can undertake the assessment process anywhere, whether underground in a coal mine or standing in a beauty salon. In a nutshell, it is the ability to use technology to capture student's capability in all work-based situations more efficiently, more effectively and at much less cost. To find out more about online assessments visit here.

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