Digital tools to support assessment and feedback: the 2023 landscape

Our Jisc principles of good assessment and feedback1 published in March 2022 were illustrated by some examples of the innovative use of digital technology to help implement the principles.

The vignettes in the guide highlighted an education technology landscape very different to that which existed last time we did a review back in 2016.

Digital tools for administrative efficiency

Our previous study on systems was focused on improving administrative efficiency. It was undertaken at a time when institutions were struggling to move from entirely paper-based processes. Our electronic management of assessment (EMA) work was prompted by complaints from higher education providers that they could not find systems to meet their administrative needs. System suppliers, on the other hand complained that the sector was unable to articulate its needs i.e. every university said something different. By working collaboratively with UCISA and a representative range of universities to define UK specific business processes associated with the management of assessment and feedback, we were able to turn these into a set of system requirements against which system suppliers self-reported.

In 2021 we conducted a survey2 that showed significant advances in the adoption of digital tools to support the management of assessment processes. The pandemic amplified a pre-existing trend and helped move cultural attitudes with regard to digital administration. Getting tools to work well together (interoperability) was cited as more of an issue than the availability or functionality of suitable tools.

Digital tools for effective pedagogy

Our survey also showed widespread interest in new approaches to assessment and feedback in order to make practice more inclusive, accessible and authentic. Our principles guide tried to address some of the barriers to this in terms of staff confidence by illustrating not only approaches that worked but examples where digital tools are being used to support good practice at scale.

The availability and scalability of digital tools designed to solve difficult pedagogic problems was one of the most exciting findings of the work. Some of the good practice highlighted in our principles is not new. It has its origins in a programme of work on transforming assessment feedback3 delivered over a decade ago. However, at that time, institutions were unable to find digital tools to support much of this good practice which meant it proved difficult to scale beyond very small cohorts.

For the first time, we are starting to see the education technology market delivering assessment and feedback tools that do much more than simplify administration.

What about AI/Chat GPT?

Over the last few months there has been considerable interest in, and consternation about, the potential impact of tools using artificial intelligence (AI) technology on assessment practice. Jisc is keeping abreast of these developments through the work of the national centre for AI in tertiary education4. Find out more from this recent blog post and webinar on how AI has the potential to disrupt student assessment5.

The rapid advance of such technologies makes it more crucial than ever to be explicit about the principles that underpin our assessment feedback practice. The principles help us clarify whether we are assessing the right things and what kind of tools can help with assessment as learning.

About this project

Over the next few months we will be engaging with the higher education sector and its suppliers to further explore the current education technology landscape in relation to our assessment feedback principles.

The outcome will not be a ‘Which Guide’ to buying assessment systems rather we will be looking at ‘system requirements’ in the broadest sense i.e. in terms of what information is needed, what kind of interactions should be facilitated, which stakeholders need what type of access, what kind of safeguards are required both in terms of privacy and security and also in terms of ensuring the learning experience is inclusive and effective. In other words, rather than describing a business process and turning it into a detailed set of requirements, we are describing examples of pedagogic practice that require digital tools if they are to be scalable and sustainable.

By the end of this project we hope to be able to provide guidance which will:

  • help HE providers review their learning teaching and assessment strategies in terms of being clear about the types of assessment practice that would best support their learners and the types of digital tools they need to achieve these practices
  • give HE providers an overview of the current educational technology landscape with particular focus on tools supporting assessment and feedback practice
  • inform HE providers about how requiring open standards compliance can save on implementation costs
  • help HE providers develop a blueprint for how innovative and assessment feedback practice can be incorporated into an open and flexible digital learning ecosystem
  • help HE providers move towards a new stage of maturity in their procurement processes whereby they are able to articulate more strategic and long-term needs and take a values-driven approach to evaluating educational technology.

Next Steps

We want this to be an open and iterative process. We will be engaging in dialogue through existing Jisc channels and communities and seeking to involve input through partner organisations and engagement with sector suppliers.

If the Jisc principles of good assessment and feedback resonate with you, and you are already making good use of digital technology to implement those principles, we would like to hear from you. Contact our lead consultant Gill Ferrell





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