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Blog: Online Learning and the Authenticity of Student Assessment

Online Learning and the Authenticity of Student Assessment

Online Learning and the Authenticity of Student Assessment

One prevalent challenge online learning institutes have been faced with is the question of “How to stop students from cheating in an online exams” and with the current demand for online education, they are right to be concerned.

Online Learning and the Authenticity of Student Assessment

For over a month now following the coronavirus outbreak case, higher education, as well as a large section of the US workforce, have been forced to work remotely. And as this spill over to May, it is expected that the focus of many colleges and universities classrooms will be geared towards sourcing for effective and authentic means to assess students learning online as opposed to merely conducting a virtual class.

Over the past few weeks, Abhishek Chaudhary, Dean, London School of Business and Research, UK, has conducted dozens of webinars and consultations with education industry colleagues most of whom were seeking counsel, support, and resources. The most recurring question from these consultations was related to assessment security and specifically “How best to prevent cheating by students who are taking online exams”.

This persisting concern hints that online education doesn’t have the depth and incorruptibility of typical person-to-person instruction – in essence, it is very easy to cheat. However, this assumption is contrary to research and far from the truth, it also runs the risk of damning all students as cheats. Even more so, it shifts the learning institutes’ focus from learning and development teaching to an obsession with punishments and looses the opportunity for a more thoughtful methodology to online assignment and assignment design.

While there are several great practices and techniques for administering assessment securely online, no assessment is uncheatable. And looking past the obvious strategy, the most effective educational response to the question of academic integrity and security of online assessments is hinged on some elementary principles and concepts.

Primarily, online education is a unique learning system purposefully designed for remote learning, teaching, and assessment with the aid of technological tools decisively employed for engagement and outcomes. And what’s more, online education is complemented by various services that offer assistance to students all through their learning cycle. In light of these, not all remote learning is online education but all online education is a form of virtual learning.

Besides, expecting a wholesome and seamless transition from a person-to-person class to a fully optimised remote learning environment in just a few weeks is not realistic. It is also erroneous and inequitable to allude the glitchy process (that is an improvisation undergoing improvements) as a testament to the inferiority of online education, as a few cynics are likely to do.

The main aim of online education is to keep students purposefully engaged with their peers and faculty members in the transition to remote teaching.

You may be wondering how these affect the security and authenticity of online assessment, it all has to do with pressure and stress – the precursors to cheating. Presently, students are experiencing so much pressure and stress and are more likely to cheat unlike when they feel supported, connected and encouraged. 

Similarly, students are less likely to cheat when allowed to demonstrate and express learning in ways that come naturally to them. This is proven and in the words of Grant Wiggins, authentic assessment can be defined as “engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replica of or analogous to the kind of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field”. In essence, irrespective of the mode of teaching for scenario-based projects, case studies, and word problems, authentic assessment is indicative of a first-rate approach to measuring students’ learning by creatively engaging and enabling them to express knowledge and not an approach to demand they verify their usefulness through stiff exams.

For instance, a faculty member preparing to examine students on nutrition, digestion, and metabolism could introduce a more creative and participatory authentic assessment in place of the typical multiple-choice exam. This teacher could allow students to track their dietary intake, metabolic indicators, and then assess this result or examine food service menus to create a unifying map showing the relationship of the outcomes on health and diet.

There are always ways to enrich authenticity even with traditional exams that represents the most preferred tool of assessment. The common six multiple-choice or true and false exam questions could be replaced with two short-answer items. Alternatively, students could be asked to record a concise explanation of their answer to exam questions and the recording is turned in after the exam.

The facts remain that, at this present time, there will be a reasonable limit on the extent to which the transition to online education can birth a more veritable assessment. This isn’t unexpected. And irrespective of the pedagogy approach we adopt for teaching and assessment, what is being taught and learned under this current circumstance, may be a testament of our versatility and flexibility that has been garnered over a lifelong process of commitment to learning.

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