Every year the Medical Sciences Division of the University of Oxford runs more than 160 online assessments for over 17,000 participants. When entering into partnership with Inspera in 2018 the division requested and helped develop a new analytics feature. The feedback from both teachers and students is positive.

Over the past fifteen years, the Medical Sciences Division of the University of Oxford has built up expertise in designing and delivering objective computer-marked assessments (largely multiple-choice). From early on the goal was to improve marking objectivity, the availability of questions and assessment times. The journey towards full implementation of online assessment is an ongoing process with far-reaching ambitions for the University of Oxford.

New supplier, new opportunities

In 2018, the university decided to find a new supplier and Inspera was selected as a partner. The first year of collaboration got off to a flying start, when the Medical Sciences Division used Inspera Assessment to run 70 summative university exams, including 100 formative assessments and 20,000 student submissions, with an average of 100 questions per assessment.

Inspera Assessment offers a large variety of question types, which incorporate tools such as images, equations, audio and video. The medical sciences assessments were designed with answer options that ensured students understood why they were selecting that particular answer, as the team of teachers wanted to test the depth of understanding, rather than simply knowledge recall.

A question bank (a database of all the available online assessment questions for a subject) supports the examiners’ job of setting questions. The academic staff responded positively to both the functionality and design offered by Inspera Assessment.

In addition, a research and development (R&D) team at Inspera worked closely with the Oxford Medical Sciences Division to advance the learning analytics tools available in the platform.  

On the road together to develop new functionality

During the spring of 2018, trials conducted at the Medical Sciences Division revealed a functional gap that was essential for the integrity and improvement of the divisions’ end-of-term examinations. The gap was related to the lack of instant reports on student marks (fine-grained distribution) and of distractor analysis to support decision making by academic staff.

As education professionals, the staff of the Oxford Medical Sciences Division want to make sure that the students are tested with the best possible questions. Tests that contain high-quality assessment items provide more useful information about student performance and help to assess where their skills need further development and attention. The ability to identify the quality of a question has positive effects for planners, markers and students alike.

Inspera established that there was a very good match between the Inspera Assessment product roadmap and the reports required. Therefore, Inspera took this requirement into the product roadmap with no cost to the Medical Sciences Division. An Inspera team that included a project manager, two R&D team members and DevOps resources, worked with the Medical Sciences Division in a compressed project to meet deadlines imposed by the exam schedule.

Inspera and the Medical Sciences Division’s team agreed on a testing phase and initiated the migration of data needed to perform the agreed objective computer-marked assessments in 2019. The reporting functionality was released in the summer of 2018. The code base for this feature has now been generalised so that its benefits are available to other customers too in closed beta, making it part of Inspera’s analytics offering.

The future of online assessment at the University of Oxford

The Digital Education Strategy consultation with academic staff and students has identified increasing interest in trialling the use of technology for assessments. In 2017-18 the University of Oxford undertook a small-scale trial of e-exams, based on formative exams. The e-exams phase 2 has been reviewed and approved by the Education IT Board, and the Project Initiation Documentation has now been passed to the IT Committee for further consideration.

If funded, the phase 2 trial will build up the university’s expertise and confidence in running e-exams. It will have a particular focus on scale, when a large number of students sit for collections exams at the same time.

In the meantime, the Medical Sciences Division continues to expand the number of departments using online assessment and is trialling online essay questions in Summer 2020.

Learn more?

Do you want to learn more about how our customers are transitioning to online assessment? Read about their unique journeys in our Customer Case Studies.


Written by Jo Bowden

September 23, 2019