Online Assessment and Digital Exams: What’s it All About and the Benefits
Written by Jo Bowden
9 minute read
Digital assessment, online assessment, electronic assessment, e-assessment, or computer-based assessment – it goes by many names. But what is it? And what are the benefits of online assessment for the students, the academic and administrative staff, and your institution?
To put it simply, an assessment platform (or ecosystem when it comes to Inspera) supports your institution’s entire examination cycle on screen. It enables you to streamline every part of the exam process while providing a fulfilling assessment experience to your test-takers. An assessment platform should provide for every learner and staff member involved, so it’s important to know what each user can get out of one. Let’s look deeper into the many benefits…
Online Assessment, Digital Exams, E-Assessment: Why is it So Important?
There is no doubt online assessments have taken over the education sector over the last 20 years. More recently, this has been accelerated due to the pandemic but also fueled by digital transformation overall. We’re now seeing global use of online assessments has skyrocketed.
And it’s not surprising. If designed correctly and with the right technology, online assessments come with multiple benefits beyond the pandemic-related Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) period.
Specifically, online assessments have the power to benefit:
Online Assessment Benefits for Students
The movement away from the traditional exam hall and classroom assessment has come with several opportunities to improve the student experience, if done correctly with a student-first mindset. Research by the U.S. National Library of Medicine showed a general preference for online exams over more traditional exams. For the students, online assessments benefits include:
Flexibility – exams anytime and anywhere
Familiarity – exams delivered consistently
Accessibility – exams designed with accessibility in mind
Immediacy – results and feedback given right away
Benefit 1: Flexibility – Exams Anytime and Anywhere
One of the biggest challenges for students is anxiety over exams, particularly when it comes to high stakes summative assessments. The exam environment in which the test is taken makes a big difference. Many students will feel far more relaxed if the test is taken in the comfort of their homes. Remote proctoring makes this viable when exam-hall conditions are required.
Today’s students are surrounded by technology and are used to working digitally. Online assessments are up-to-date with students’ requirements and habits derived from their everyday use of technology. However, a consistent interface will aid in bringing familiarity to the process, resulting in more time to focus on the assessment in progress.
Benefit 3: Environmentally Friendly
For the environmentally conscious students of today, sustainability is top of the agenda. Sustainability is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ but rather a ‘must-have.’ Online assessments offer reduced carbon emissions by removing the production, distribution, and collation of paper-based assessments:
“For one student’s exam, one would need about 20 sheets of paper, and that would make about 0.041 kg CO2. That is excluding production, delivery, shipping, re-shipping, storage, and destruction. In contrast, 2 hours of laptop usage would be about 0.00007-0.00020 kg CO2” Dr. Donald Lancaster, Senior Lecturer and Director of Studies EMBA, University of Bath.
This also extends to benefit 1, where location and timing options increase accessibility for students who, for example, have difficulties traveling or caring responsibilities requiring them to be home. By the same standards, not everyone has access to the space or device to take their assessments at home.These factors can also be addressed by the flexibility of an assessment platform and the provision of an institution-provided device.
With Inspera, the network resilience embedded into the ecosystem means that even an unreliable WiFi connection won’t stand in the way of a student being able to complete their assessment.
Benefit 5: Immediacy
Closely connected to reducing student anxiety is the fifth benefit of online assessment: immediacy. Digital assessments have the ability to provide results with immediate effect. This in turn, reduces the anxiety involved with waiting for exam grades for days. Additionally, feedback can be immediately given. Particularly useful in designing formative assessments.
Benefits for the Educational Institution
Online assessments come with many benefits for educational institutions as well.
Specifically, for educational organizations online assessment can bring:
A competitive edge
Higher staff and student satisfaction
Benefit 1: Cost Saving
One of the biggest benefits for educational institutions is the ability to save valuable resources and costs associated with assessments. It’s not just about saving costs of printing, digital assessment speeds up many of the processes associated with assessment. Digitizing your assessments means less time for the administrative team booking space and resources, plus the costs of (re)distributing papers between examiners. These aspects of online assessment also speed up the effectiveness of the whole assessment process. The time and money saved can be used for the staff to focus on other tasks, including providing the rich feedback that really benefits their learners. In the end, moving assessments online allows you to be more efficient with fewer resources.
Benefit 2: A Competitive Edge
Educational institutions are looking more than ever to find a competitive edge. As already defined in this post so far alone, online assessments are more environmentally friendly, more accessible, and inclusive and help to create a great student experience. All of which has the potential to be used as a competitive advantage by the institutions.
Benefit 3: Scalability
Closely related to the benefit of cost is the ability of online assessments to be more scalable than traditional exam hall or classroom assessments. But it’s not just about cutting costs, operational staff also often need to reach geographically spread students while making sure assessments are consistent.
Benefit 4: Higher Staff and Student Satisfaction
Ultimately, the goal of many educational institutions is to provide the highest satisfaction to their students and staff. Online assessments can improve student satisfaction by providing a smoother, swifter and less anxious assessment in today’s digital world. And, by providing your staff with a one-stop shop for all their assessment needs, you’re bound to improve staff satisfaction in the long term.
Online Assessments Benefits for Administrative Staff
For administrative staff, online assessments are a brilliant opportunity to not only optimize the processes of assessment but also to reposition the role of administrator within educational institutions.
There are two main benefits to consider here:
Online assessment will reduce the administrative burden
Administrative staff can be supporters of institutional change
Benefit 1: Reduced Administrative Burden
A lot of the cost savings involved in online assessments are targeted toward reducing administrative costs involved in classroom assessments. From optimizing the time spent on printing paper exams to reducing the need for booking proctors or rooms, online assessments come with multiple advantages administrators will love, and give them more time for core tasks.
With the right assessment platform, administrative staff can easily monitor the entire exam lifecycle from one place, including paper-based exams. Tasks such as archiving and reporting on bachelor and master theses are also made more efficient. And distribution of complete tests among graders is more secure and can easily be done across the entire institution.
Benefit 2: Administrative Staff as Supporters of Institutional Change
Some academics might be reluctant to change long-standing practices, particularly when it comes to marking. It can feel overwhelming and raise concerns around exam security. Implementing online assessment as a way of working will require cultural change as well as new processes. And, while the road for administrators might not be easy, the rewards are notable.
Successfully digitizing assessments within an institution can position administrative staff as supporters of institutional change and expand their role into a highly influential area of cultural transformation.
Benefit 1: Streamlining Design, Delivery, Marking, and Sharing of Assessments
The right technology can significantly streamline and simplify the process of assessment. In the design stage, academics can quickly choose from a wide range of question types, existing questions & design options which will speed up the design process. Academics can then deliver those exams seamlessly to a wide range of students, using readability of submissions, auto, flexible and collaborative marking. They can then share grades and feedback in the same space with immediate effect, making the process quicker and more streamlined than traditional paper methods or by using a learning management system .
Benefit 2: Improved Authenticity in Assessment
With multiple question types, academics have the opportunity to try new ways of assessing candidates to better engage learners. You could use this capability to try more authentic assessment types, like applying knowledge to real-world uses. The data on the online assessment platform can then be used to determine the success of these assessment types.
Benefit 3: Providing Valuable Insights to Optimize Teaching and Assessment Practices
Online assessment results can provide invaluable insights for academics into ways to improve their own teaching and assessments. The built-in continuous improvement that digital and online assessments offer comes from being able to obtain data and analyze what’s worked and what can be enhanced. From this information, academics can learn as much about learners’ mastery of a subject as about the assessment quality and the questions they use. This can lead to academics becoming better question and test writers, speeding up learners’ path to mastery, and improving the validity of results.
Benefit 4: Ensuring a Better Student Experience
Academics have always been striving to improve student experience. Online assessments have been shown to be beneficial to providing students with what they actually want. Many students have told us they prefer digital exams because of the writing speed and comfort, being able to take exams at home, saving paper, and the ability to easily edit work.
Benefit 5: Increased Security and Mitigated Plagiarism Risks
A potential benefit of online assessments for academics is increased security. Many online assessment platforms offer in-built academic integrity features, including secure browsers (also known as lockdown or integrity browsers) and exam proctoring that, implemented well, are far more reliable than classroom supervision. The best platforms will offer academics the ability to determine the level of security they require. Plus, academics can also be confident that following the assessment, all the exam papers are kept secure.
*Our survey (undertaken during global lockdown) revealed that 79% of students prefer digital exams.
Benefits of Online Assessment in Summary
Benefits for Students:
Benefits for the Institution:
Higher staff and student satisfaction
Benefits for Administrative Staff:
Benefits for Academic Staff:
Reduced administrative burden
Support institutional change
Better student experience
Online Assessment Prepares Students for the Workplace of the Future
Digital assessment is not just about getting rid of pen, paper, and handwriting. Digital assessment is the bridge between school, work, and active citizenship. It secures alignment between the tools used in everyday teaching and evaluations and those candidates will use in their professional lives.
On a more practical level, an assessment platform covers the following areas:
Plan and schedule assessments
Design exam paper, author, and bank items, enable aids and access arrangements at scale
Deliver online and offline tests and monitor candidates during the exam
Online assessment is here to stay. Technology is pervasive in modern-day society, and educational institutions need to digitally transform themselves to adapt and provide services that are fit for the future.