Smarter Assessments

To Bridge the Gap between Learning and Examination

Steffen SkovfogedAbyhoj (DK), November 2014 - Steffen Skovfoged is co-founder and director of UNIwise and the cloud-based digital exam platform WISEflow. The platform was developed in cooperation with some of the leading Scandinavian universities, and in less than two years, it has acquired more than 125,000 users. It is now being used in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland, and acceptance is extending in both Europe and Asia. Steffen Skovfoged will present his work at ONLINE EDUCA on 05 December 2014 from 12:00 to 13:30 in session SOL45, entitled "The Future of Online Assessments".

How widely are digital examinations and assessments used in Danish universities?

Steffen Skovfoged: The case of Denmark is actually a little bit special because there has been both a push and a pull effect. By law, universities have been obliged to offer digital examinations since January 2014, but prior to this several universities and higher-educational institutions had been looking for digital examinations solutions due to student requests. Students today rarely write by hand in the learning situation, so it felt like a quite a disadvantage to be forced to do exams with pen and paper in onsite exams, and even more awkward to hand in computer-written home assignments in several paper copies.

We started out as a publicly funded research project in 2010 as a joint venture involving the University of Aarhus, the School Engineering, and the Welfare Foundation. The project ended with both an exam platform prototype, which was later developed into the commercial SaaS solution WISEflow, as well as a documented showcase of huge potentials if digital assessment was done intelligently. The showcase strengthened the case of digitization, and today all levels of the edu-sector in Denmark are rapidly moving towards digital examination and e-assessment.

What are the arguments for and against these procedures?

Steffen Skovfoged: The arguments for digitization are primarily a response to student need and demand for an easy and up-to-date access to their exams. We also seek to bridge the gap between learning and examination by allowing students to use the same technology in exams that they use in their learning context. In our solution, we have also put great emphasis on supporting the assessment process by giving teachers and assessor different tools like an easy-to-use annotate tool, which allows for direct feedback to the students.

It is also no secret that the digitization of exams and the interrelated administrative processes can provide institutions with an enormous saving of resources when fully implemented and done intelligently. In our case, we have documented that universities can save more than 75% of the labour costs involved in managing and handling exams. Furthermore, universities save all the costs of paper and postage, as well as the physical need of archiving.

To be honest there are not that many arguments against the digitization of exams and assessment. The biggest obstacle is the habit change that the teachers and assessors are facing. Paper has been around for many, many years, and in many ways it is a remarkable “technology”, so it takes some time to get used to working only digitally. 

What kinds of resistance or concerns did you encounter prior to their introduction?

Steffen Skovfoged: The biggest resistance is without doubt the change in habits that I mentioned before. But if you offer relevant tools that enhance and allow for new and smarter assessment, you can overcome the resistance. In our case, we have made a number of evaluations that showed that eighty percent of the faculty members found the digital assessment process to be easier or at least not worse than their previous analogue process.

Another quite obvious and relevant concern is the handling and storage of personal data once you take exams into the cloud. Most institutions are naturally concerned about the security of the personal data of students and staff, so for instance vendors like us who offer SaaS solutions need to ensure that data is handled securely.

Another concern is whether students can cheat when exams are done online, or what happens in the case of loss of connection to the net. While the concerns are totally legit, both can be overcome and handled with the technologies available today.

Don’t digital exams limit the possibilities of designing a written test?

Steffen Skovfoged: On the contrary, digital exams in many ways expand and heighten the possibilities of written tests and exams by allowing new forms of examinations and exam products. With a digital product, you suddenly have the option of allowing students to integrate, for example, video and audio into their papers and assignments, and of course, building the test and questions with these media integrated as well.

By building questions and tests in question pools and question banks, you also suddenly have the possibility of sharing questions and tests across teachers and subjects and even across institutions and countries. In our solution, we have built different modules that support home assignments, with or without integrated media, totally secure onsite exams, and advanced multiple-choice tests with support for both mathematical and programming models. But some tests also support oral exams, so institutions can manage and plan such exams, and testers can make digital notes during the exam and grade it right away.

In many ways you could argue that with the dominant and extensive use of paper-based exams, paper in itself has become a hindrance in the improvement and development of exams.

Which target group benefits most from digital exams?

Steffen Skovfoged: We believe that when done intelligently and with the ambition of improving both the pedagogical and administrative processes involved in exams, several groups can benefit from the digitization of exams:

  • Student performance can be improved by allowing the students the use ICT tools from their learning environment.
  • Teachers achieve a higher decree of flexibility and mobility when reading, assessing, and giving feedback.
  • Administrators save 75% of the resources used in managing exams and are able to do most of their work in advance, which greatly reduces the stress involved in managing exams.