New report on academic staff use of technology enhanced assessment

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor launched a new report on the use of technology for assessment by academic staff in higher education this week at Trinity College Dublin. The report by Trinity researchers, Dr Ann Devitt, and Dr Mairead Brady, which was funded by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, in partnership with the Irish Research Council, provides insight and transparency into this critical issue in education. The world-renowned expert in the field of assessment and feedback in third level, Professor David Nicol of the Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow, gave a keynote address on the occasion of the launch.

Launching the report, Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor said: “As we embrace digital technology it is important that we get it right for our education system as it will impact on future generations of students to come. We need to understand the realities associated with digital learning. This is a significant report in mapping out best practice in digital teaching and learning and in supporting the overall digital experience of our students.”

Speaking at the launch of the report, Dr Terry Maguire, Director of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education said: “The National Forum is delighted to welcome this report, and warmly commends the authors on the work they invested in the study. A key aim of the Forum is to ensure that developments and decision-making related to teaching and learning in Irish higher education are rooted in a solid base of evidence. For this reason, it was particularly positive to be in a position to partner with the Irish Research Council in supporting this examination of the value and efficacy of embedding technology in assessment practices.”

The report marries two key focuses of higher education technology and assessment. The opportunities for assessment and feedback available through technology are constantly developing. The report examines the evidence for how and where academic staff in higher education world-wide use and gain value from technology in designing assessment of, for and as learning.

The report examined a wide range of technologies including web 2.0 media such as blogs and wikis, game-based learning, intelligent tutorial systems and multi-choice quizzes (MCQs). The different technologies afford different opportunities for learning and assessment. The findings show that technology was mainly adopted to foster collaborative learning, scaffold student’s self-directed and reflective learning and to provide students with plenty of opportunities for practice. Specific technologies were found to generate efficiencies of time and workload for staff in grading, providing feedback, identifying plagiarism and supporting student self-directed learning. However, these possible efficiencies were sometimes counterbalanced by limiting factors around setting up, managing and maintaining technology within assessment, especially when using social media for assessment.The study also found some evidence that institutional and policy support and critically resourcing is key to embedding technology in assessment in a sustained way.

Dr Devitt, Assistant Professor in Education, Trinity College Dublin said: “Technology has the potential to transform how we assess our students and how they develop their skills as self-directed learners. However to be sustainable and effective we must focus on designs that optimise staff and student effort to focus on what is important, that is, students being fully supported to drive their own learning forward.”

Dr Brady, Assistant Professor in Business, Trinity College Dublin added that: “In the race to adopt technology into higher education this is a very timely report as it showcases the real practical implementation issues that many academic innovators experience while also providing some guidance on how we might progress this critical aspect of third level educational development to enhance rather than detract from the higher order learning needed.”

Pictured L-R are Prof Andrew Burke, David Nicol, Minister Mitchell O’Connor, Prof Jane Ohlmeyer, Terry Maguire, Damien Murchan with authors, Mairead Brady and Ann Devitt.