Considerations and challenges in the SA context

One of the biggest challenges of starting with online assessment for the first time is the time that it takes to design assessments for online delivery, to formulate assessment criteria and/ or rubrics, and to develop an overall assessment strategy for your module that includes new online assessments. The initial time investment required to start using online assessment is often underestimated.

How do I address this challenge?

It is important to plan for it. You will need to spend some extra time initially when you want to incorporate online assessment activities into your overall assessment strategy for a course for the first time. You need to make provisioning for the time it will take to plan your activities, compile your assessment criteria, and develop assessment activities.

Do not over extend yourself by incorporating too many new types of assessment activities at once. Often lecturers are excited to try different online assessment tools. You will need to spend some time planning and compiling assessments for each new tool you want to use and you may become despondent when you realise how much time it will take. Rather make a commitment to try one new tool each year and build on previous years’ knowledge and experiences.

Ensure that the time you spend initially is truly an investment by building up a question bank of questions that you can re-use and expand on year after year. If you create 20 questions on a topic, for instance, the first year that your students are completing online quizzes, you can add 10 more the following year and have a question bank of 30 questions. You also need to remember that although you spend some extra time to compile your questions initially, you will save time eventually when these questions are automatically graded.

A common misconception is that all of our students are tech savvy and ready to use technology in their modules. Many of our students (especially first years) have not been exposed to computers or educational technology in school and need to master these tools for the first time at university.

How do I address this challenge?

  1. Most universities have how-to guides for students on how to use the various online assessment tools that are available. It is important to make sure that your students have access to these documents and that they know where to find them. Spend some time in class by showing them where to find resources on how to use the online assessment tools they’ll be exposed to in your course. If proper how-to resources are not available on an institutional level, consider creating some step-by-step guides for your students that will show them exactly how to access and complete their online assessments in your course.
  2. A ‘practice run’ is recommended before your students complete an online assessment for the first time. It can notably reduce queries from students while the assessment is open. A practice run is just a quick example assessment that does not count towards a semester mark but that allows students to familiarise themselves with the online assessment tool before having to complete their assessment.

If your students are completing an online assessment in an uncontrolled environment, it is possible that they may help each other or work together on the assessment. This may be undesirable for some types of assessment such as examinations or other summative assessments. Therefore, it is recommended that these types of assessments need to take place in a controlled environment such as a computer laboratory. However, for informal quizzes designed to help students to learn and grasp content it is not necessarily a problem if they collaborate on assessment tasks, as research shows that this still facilitates learning. There are also certain measures that you can put in place to limit meaningless copying of each other’s work though:

How do I address this challenge?

  1. A question bank is an option. You can set up a question bank with 20 questions, for example, but each student only sees 10 questions. This means that students will not complete exactly the same assessment. A question bank must be used with caution, however, as you need to put measures in place to ensure that each test is of a similar difficulty level. To do this you need to group questions together that are on a similar difficulty level and then set up your assessment so that each student receives the same number of ‘easy’, ‘medium’, and/ or ‘difficult’ questions.
  2. You can also randomise your test questions and options with most online testing platforms. This option is possible with a question bank but also if all of your students are completing the same test. If you, for instance, have a test consisting of 20 questions the option in which the questions are displayed can be randomised as well as the order in which the answer options are displayed.
  3. The most effective way to deal with this challenge is having an appropriate time limit. Do not give your students too much time to complete an assessment. Especially if your test consists of objective assessment question types where they have to select a correct response without having to type an answer. They do not necessarily need as much time for objective test items as they would with a written test. Of course, the complexity of the questions you ask also need to be considered and even objective assessment question types can require students to reason and think before they’ll be able to answer, but ensure that the time limit of the assessment is appropriate for the number and types of questions you ask.
  4. Another important measure to combat meaningless copying between students, is proper question design. The questions that you ask for an online assessment that will be completed in an uncontrolled environment cannot simply be questions for which students will easily find the answer in their textbooks or class notes. Informal online assessments, which contribute to an overall semester mark, are a great way to teach students to apply concepts to real-life scenarios.

Many lecturers who use online assessment for the first time underestimate the number of student queries they may receive. This is especially challenging when an assessment is completed in an uncontrolled environment. You may get queries from students who experienced internet connection problems, who were unable to complete the test before the deadline for various reasons, or who were uncertain on how to use the online assessment tool. The challenge not only lies in dealing with the number of queries but also in discerning when a query is valid or invalid.

How do I address this challenge?

  1. The most effective way to reduce student queries during and after an assessment is proper communication before the assessment. Make sure that your students know exactly when they are expected to complete the assessment, that they are aware of any how-to or other information documents they need to consult prior to completing the assessment, and that the assessment criteria are clearly defined so that they know exactly what is expected of them. Also, ensure that students know in which instances they will not get a second chance to complete the assessment and be consistent in the way in which you deal with queries. It is a good idea to explain beforehand (preferably in writing via the LMS or in the study guide) to students that no late submissions will be accepted.
  2. A ‘practice run’ is recommended to not only ensure that students are familiar with the assessment tool but also to reduce queries.

Many South African students struggle financially and may not have access to their own personal mobile devices (such as laptops or even smartphones). Additionally, the high cost of data is a well-known challenge in the South African context. It is important to keep this in mind when students are required to complete any online activities, including online assessment.

How do I address this challenge?

  1. Many students are dependent on institutional infrastructure, such as computer laboratories and Wi-Fi on campus to complete online assessment activities. Assessment activities that are open for an extended period (such as a week) allow students enough time to access campus resources. Of course, not all assessments are designed to be opened for an extended period. In such cases, it is recommended that, where possible, an appropriate venue is booked so that students will have access to required resources to complete their activities.
  2. In addition to providing students with enough time to complete assessment activities, it is important to also give them enough advance notice of when and how online assessment activities in your course will be completed. This way students are afforded an opportunity to plan exactly when they will need to access which resources on campus if they do not have access to devices and or data at home.
  3. Use graphics and videos, that require large quantities of data, to download sparingly. Online assessment offers opportunities for innovative assessment design such as the inclusion of a video instead of a written case study, for instance. However, the cost of data is prohibitive. There are several free software programs available to minimise video sizes Format Factory is one example. Another example is to insert a video into a PowerPoint presentation and to save the presentation as a video with a lower quality.