What Can British Universities Learn from Scandinavian Institutions?

Anja Sisarica
July 5, 2019

Digital assessment has largely been accepted as a norm in the Nordic countries. Government support, a strong tech scene, and successful collaboration in the sector propel the innovation. Across the North Sea, universities in the UK have recently begun their journey towards digital examination. On 25th June the University of Bath held the Digital Examinations Forum 2019, and invited universities from the East and the West to meet and share their experiences.

At first, Nordic Noir hit the UK. Then the concept of Danish “hygge” was introduced. This year the Scandinavians are back bringing insights and best practises on digital assessment with them. More than 120 attendees joined the forum to discuss recent advances within the online assessment field in higher education. In this article, we would like to share some of our impressions from the forum.


What are the pitfalls of digital assessment?

Digital assessment provides a lot of possibilities but some of them are less explored than others, and some are even overlooked. For example, there is a tendency to often equate digital assessment with the use of multiple-choice questions as summative examination, as Claire Englund from Umeå University in Sweden pointed out.

Under the headline ‘Moving from technical implementation to pedagogical development’ Claire Englund started a debate on how to make the most of digital assessment. At the moment, academics in general are not taking advantage of the opportunities for embedded media such as the possibility of using images, sound and videos when designing and conducting exams.

Dr Simon Kent from Brunel University London took a similar stand at the forum and underlined that: “Digital exams don’t have to be digitised paper exams.” Implementing digital assessment is essentially about people, not technology, and the adaptation of the new technologies will undoubtedly take some time. All change management processes require trust and guidance, and Claire Englund further suggested that a boost in technological competences among academics may be necessary before pedagogical development can take place.

Overcoming barriers for adoption of onscreen marking

The academic staff are the gatekeepers when it comes to implementing digital assessment successfully. At the forum, we talked about the many benefits of e-marking for academic staff, such as:

  • Learning analytics supporting reflection
  • Embedded anti-plagiarism functions
  • New question types for a more meaningful assessment
  • More efficient marking on-screen

Even so, marker adoption is slower compared to other user groups. At Inspera, we interviewed academics and administrative staff from five Norwegian and Swedish universities in order to explore their attitudes towards on-screen marking. Our research showed us that we need to acknowledge and embrace the diversity of needs when we design systems for digital assessment. One-size-fits-all marking tools fall short and the tools need to be designed even for what we don't know. That’s why we redesigned our marking tool as a configurable workspace that can be tailored to individual marking preferences.  

What have we learned?

Digital assessment is not a project, it’s a continuous process. The implementation should be seen as a business-critical change management process, and it is of utmost importance to involve all levels of the organisation.

Assessment project lifecycle

From each lifecycle we learn and improve before we start again. Do you want to learn more about how to conduct online exams and assessments? Feel free to check out our "Guide to Online Exams and Assessments".

Join us at the Digital Examinations Forum 2020

In just a few short weeks, the University of Bath and Inspera are launching this year’s Digital Examination Forum. A full 4 weeks of great speakers, discussions and learning - all from the comfort of your home or office! 

Register to claim your free seat, and get ready for the future of assessment. Learn more about the event and sign up here.

We hope to see you there!

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