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Patrick Coates talks about this year’s e-Assessment Awards

e-Assessment Association Board member, judge of the Best Summative Assessment Award, independent consultant and Director of International Skills UK, Patrick Coates reflects on the last year and the how he is looking forward to award entries showcasing practical applications of the assessment technology.

It’s been an unusual year to say the least. The impact on assessment this year has been something that nobody could possibly have foreseen. Although of course with hindsight everyone seemingly has 20:20 vision about what we should have or should not have done. With regards to the schools examination system there was as we know in the UK the challenge that was the awarding of grades and the English ‘mutant algorithm’ and similar challenges in other countries requiring regrading of exams. Now we find out that grades are going to be provided by teachers. Is this really the best we can do as I suspect that results will be inflated, based on experience, but we don’t know which ones. I know from speaking to other parents that some schools awarded grades based on what the students needed to progress to the next stage in their education, rather than the marks they necessarily deserved to get. Is this really the best we can do? Although this has had a huge impact in the UK I work with many organisations overseas and in Kenya they cancelled the entire year. So for these children and for the country 2020 didn’t happen in an education context. I am not sure what happens with new pupils, will there be an entire year from 2021 with twice as many students in it for their entire school life?  Whilst these were unprecedented times, I think those times are going to be here to stay.

The examinations system had its own challenges, but e-assessment should in theory provide flexibility in terms of delivery for the professional and vocational areas with many professional bodies currently using technology. This though hasn’t been able to provide an answer when test centres typically used have been shut. Whilst remote proctoring surely would seem to have been the answer to the problem, it is certainly not a panacea. There are challenges around ensuring sufficient remote proctoring capacity to be able to manage lots of concurrent users, access to connectivity and bandwidth. We are still very reliant on exams that are based around having to take the same test at the same time for all students. I am aware that some of the USA standardised test companies had to shelve moving to remote proctoring as it would be biased to a particular demographic, creating a further division between the haves and have nots.

I know that there are various pieces of work going on around updating the examinations system and what exams should look like, but whatever it is I am hoping that technology is at the heart of it.  Whilst I have been involved in the e-assessment industry for over 20 years I am still amazed that things have not moved on as much as they should have done. The tendency is for people to be very introspective when it comes to e-assessment and technology, and we don’t tend to look at what is available from outside their own organisations, let alone overseas. Perhaps it is that assessment technology organisations want to own any technology and innovation themselves, so there is an aversion to collaboration or partner with companies that are offering these innovations that could change the world. Or is it that educations are too risk averse? Perhaps it is that no matter how good a technology is, it is always going to be a question of how well it can be marketed or promoted to the wider community, which neatly brings me on to the e-AA awards.

I am fortunate again this year to be again involved as a judge in the e-AA awards. I look forward to this as it provides me with an opportunity to be able to see what is out there in the wider world of e-assessment. Despite my working in a global context and seeing what is available, I am always keen to see what is out there. There are still the same problems that organisations have with not having sufficient items to create assessments; it takes too long to create assessments; assessments are too long, they are too expensive to be delivered in a test centre, etc. I know that there is a lot of work going on around AI and machine learning and I am hoping we will see submissions this year that will provide us an opportunity to see what is going on and how we can use it to improve how e-assessment can change society and improve the school and professional examination systems.

So this year I am reaching out to all my contacts and want to make sure that there are as many submissions as possible from overseas and that we get to see the practical applications of the best technology.

Photograph of Patrick Coates
Patrick Coates

Patrick Coates is an independent consultant and Director of International Skills UK. He has worked in e-assessment since the late 1990s having worked on a number of e-assessment programmes with UK awarding bodies e-assessment which included working with QCA and other Government bodies on promoting the adoption of e-assessment. Patrick is also an Executive Committee Board member of the e-Assessment Association Board member and judge of this year’s Best Summative Assessment Project Award.

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