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Comparing assessment platforms: how to decide which features you need

Suzanna Doran
September 24, 2021

When it comes to comparing digital assessment platforms, there’s a lot to consider. Not only are there different kinds of platforms - from e-marking software to proctoring solutions, full-cycle assessment platforms and more - but even those with similar offerings differ in their feature sets. 

With so many options available at the moment, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by too much choice. In this article, we’ll be sharing some advice for defining the feature sets you really need and comparing different kinds of software. 

Once you’ve completed an audit of your current assessment processes, you’ll have a good idea of what’s important to stakeholders throughout your institution. You may also have discovered some tensions or disagreements between different user groups, regarding what is and isn’t important to them.

At this stage, you can begin to research potential solutions. Conducting early market engagement with technology providers can help you to understand what technology is available right now to help you solve your problems. Gaining an understanding of the market will help you to come up with a realistic list of requirements later on.

To find out more, you can download our free guide which covers this process from start to finish.

Deciding which features you really need

First, ask your project group to each prioritise the problems they’d like to solve and goals they’d like to meet. It’s likely that representatives with different roles will have different priorities: for example, administrators may wish to have a clear overview of how each exam is progressing whilst academics might be more interested in the marking process. They should think about which aspects are essential for exams to run and which are secondary priorities. At this stage, your team should understand that there may need to be some compromise later on.

After everyone has prioritised their own goals, it’s time to come together to consider the features that would meet these goals and decide which are must-haves and which are nice-to-haves.

A helpful way to differentiate between them is that must-haves are features that you categorically require for digital assessment to function at your institution. On the other hand, nice-to-haves are features that would improve stakeholder experiences but aren’t strictly a requirement. For example, if your institution works with an accreditation institution that requires proctoring, then this feature would be a must-have. A nice-to-have feature may be a question type that an academic has expressed interest in using but doesn’t yet require in their exams.

Although every institution’s needs are unique, some categories you may want to consider are:

  • Security, including lockdown browsers and proctoring
  • Test authoring, including question types
  • Test administration and planning
  • Marking and feedback options
  • Accessibility
  • Student experience
  • Integrations with LMS, VLE or other tools used at your institution
  • Implementation support
  • Ongoing customer service and product innovation

Comparing platforms and feature sets

Once you’ve decided on the features you need to conduct successful digital assessments, you can formalise your market engagement by looking into different solutions. As you start this process, you’ll need to bear in mind that some platforms offer very different feature sets. Some of these include:

Full-cycle assessment platforms

Allow you to design, deliver and mark your assessments in one place. Most of these platforms also include the option to activate proctoring and lockdown browser functionality, when and if it is needed.

Proctoring solutions

Monitor students during the test, either with AI or human invigilators who track the student’s screen, webcam and microphone for signs of academic dishonesty. These solutions are available to use alongside an exam delivery platform that doesn’t already include proctoring.

Lockdown browser solutions

Stop students from navigating away from the exam browser during the test. Similar to proctoring solutions, these are designed to be used with a delivery platform that doesn’t include its own lockdown browser.

Computerised Adaptive Testing (CAT) platforms:

Automatically select the best questions for each student from a question bank, depending on their current knowledge or skill level.

E-Marking platforms

Focus solely on the digital marking of large scale summative assessments. These platforms are used extensively by awarding bodies with large volumes of seasonal paper exam scripts to mark.

VLEs

Are not assessment platforms but are often used for assignment submissions or to carry out formative quizzes. They aren’t usually designed for high-stakes, summative assessments and may become overloaded when used for high-volume, simultaneous assessments. Most don’t include lockdown browsers or proctoring, so a separate solution would be needed for use alongside these platforms.

You may be able to reduce your options straight away by ruling out any of the above that aren’t suitable. Now, you can look more closely at the features of the remaining platforms and narrow them down to those that cover your must-haves. At this point, you’ll hopefully be left with a shorter list of potential solutions that cover all the features that you must have in order to deliver successful online assessments.

This is the second in a series of blog posts in which we share information about the steps to take when choosing a new assessment platform for your institution. In the previous post, we talked about how to review your institution’s current assessment strategy. Next time, we’ll be talking about how to define your institution’s objectives so make sure you come back next week to find out more. If you’d like to learn about each stage in the process of selecting assessment software now, you can download our free guide.

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