When Edison and his team of researchers succeeded in developing a practical and inexpensive light bulb, they changed the modern world. Still, Edison’s invention was met with scorn. A British parliamentary committee concluded in 1878 that the light bulb was ‘good enough for our transatlantic friends … but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men’, while scientist Henry Morton called the invention, in short, ‘a conspicuous failure’.
The hardest things to change are those that we are the most dependant on. Like the use of fire. Or a pen and paper. Scholars have used traditional writing tools for centuries, and as long as you don’t run out of ink, it is fair to say that a pen is a pretty reliable tool for non-verbal communication. In a time of digitalisation, many operations have obviously already moved online, but testing and assessment have generally not. But that is about to change.
We need to ask ourselves, why we still want students to write their exams by hand when it is an inescapable fact that modern work-life is digital? Today's students are digital natives, and online assessment bridges the gap between their digital use at home, at work, and on campus, and it provides a more authentic way to conduct assessments.
Technology is pervasive in modern-day society and digital competences are required to be an active citizen. According to PwC, the discrepancy between the skills people have and those needed for jobs in the digital world is one of the most critical problems of our time. Upskilling, which means to bridge the digital divide, is a way of tackling this issue. Digital assessment is part of the digital offers which modern institutions should provide for their learners, and thereby prepare them for a professional life that will inevitably be digital.
The development and adoption of digital technologies, as well as the accelerating shift to digital workflows and information handling, means that using digital tools for assessment is a natural extension of this wider shift in practice. There is also an added impetus due to requirements from students who are unaccustomed to extended periods of writing with pen and paper and find it difficult to demonstrate the full extent of their capabilities.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has forced a change in the way educational institutions can teach and assess their learners. Institutions around the world have to adapt the way they work to support remote learning and home exams. It could be said that the coronavirus crisis is, in fact, providing the rocket fuel for the digital transformation in education.
An analysis carried out by UNCTAD under the United Nations shows that the coronavirus has accelerated the transition towards a digital economy on a global scale. Organisations and companies alike are adopting digital solutions, tools, and services at a higher pace than ever before. The report also reveals the wide chasm between those who are online and connected and those who are not. Like PwC, the UN points out the inequalities related to the difference of digital readiness.
Online education is one of the areas that has proliferated during the COVID-19. UNESCO reports that 91% of the world’s student population has been affected by the closure of educational institutions, which has resulted in a massive move of teaching and testing online.
How can we benefit from the rejection of Edison’s light bulb in a broader sense besides the anecdotal value? Of course, it's quite amusing that the brightest brains of the time literally couldn’t see the light, but what is the story really about? It is a narrative of change. For hundreds, even thousands, of years, civilisations had depended on fire as the source of light. Perhaps it is not so strange that Edison’s invention must have seemed ridiculous, uncanny, or even unsafe at the time.
Once again, we find ourselves in uncertain times. Despite the grave background, the rapid changes forced by the coronavirus could eventually be a springboard for a much more flexible and accessible assessment practise in the future. At Inspera, we have been preparing for a “new normal”. We have embraced a remote-first design principle – not only to address the current situation but also to cater for more flexibility in assessments going forward.
The changes in our digital behaviour are, at least to some extent, likely to become permanent when the economy starts to recover. The COVID-19 crisis has inevitably pushed us further into a digital world and made us reconsider existing business models and ways of teaching and working.
Learn more about why digital assessment is integral to modern education in the 'Why e-assessment' section.
You are also welcome to contact us if you have any questions.