Online – the new reality for Higher Education – but what about assessment?

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As universities scramble to put their courses online, one area that is being overlooked and which needs special attention is assessment.  How will assessment, within this new online reality, be undertaken so as to ensure a just and equitable process for all?

Most institutions have adopted the essay as the assessment means for their online courses and programmes.  It’s a quick and easy way for institutions to tick that assessment box and strangely enough, quality assurance and accreditation agencies seem to have gone along with it as they too, are mainly interested in ticking the boxes.  But with ‘essay mills’ (operating under the guise of ‘student support’) booming in the last decade and more, should this assessment method be looked at a little more carefully?  It has become all too easy to get a custom essay churned out by these ‘essay mills’ for a minimal price while at the same time, plagiarism detection software has proven to be incapable of fulfilling its mandate.

The bottom line is that if higher education institutions are going to incorporate online learning into their core activities, then assessment methods need to be looked at.  It is not enough to simple roll out courses or programmes online and add on an essay at the end as the assessment method.  Just as it is not enough to simply run these essays through plagiarism detection software as a paid-for essay will not be detected.  More sophisticated use of technology needs to be employed.

The technology exists; however, it is not being employed in a sophisticated manner.  For example, assessment methods could employ key stroke biometrics and visuals along with Artificial Intelligence to ensure that the person hitting the keys while sitting in front of the screen writing the essay, is in fact the person registered on the course or programme.  This could very easily be incorporated into the online learning environments and could also produce some interesting data about student behaviours that could enrich the whole online learning experience.