The following post is from Alicia Gonzalez-Buelga who started her BILT Associate role on the theme of assessment and feedback.
I have been working in the Mechanical Engineering Department at University of Bristol for more than 10 years. I started as a postdoctoral researcher, and I have been a lecturer since 2015. At the moment, I teach 2 units on Automatic Control and Industrial Control and one unit on Sustainable Energy Technologies, Economic and Impacts. My research is a combination of research in the engineering field of Dynamics and Control (earthquake protection, autonomous vehicles, vibration control) with pedagogical ‘engineering education’ research in blended learning, assessment and feedback and project based learning; my educational research priority is to better understand the student’s points of views and perceptions and also improve their learning experience.
I am currently the examiner officer for the department, and I have been in charge of sorting out the emergency move in 2020, due to covid, from sit down in campus written exams to home online tests … and I fell ‘in love’ with online assessment in the process, finding quite a few unexpected advantages. I believe online assessment offers unique qualities and can be superior to sitting in-person exam if developed correctly. For example, online assessments save money for the university: no paper, no travel, no ink (making it more environmentally friendly!) and part of the marking can be automatic (saving lots of time for academics). Also students are far less stressed, in general, taking the assessment from their homes, in pyjamas and with a cup of tea, without having to run around Bristol to be on time for the exam (unless their internet connection is not that great…)
From a more pedagogical point of view, since the students are taking the assessment from home, and it has become an open book exam, examiners tend to eliminate all questions evaluating only ‘remembering’ and ‘understanding’ and they move onto ‘applying’, ‘analysing’ ,’evaluating’ and ‘creating’ questions, higher in the Bloom’s taxonomy. Setting up appropriate questions may be a bit more involved than in a traditional exam, but plenty of time is saved on marking, at least in our Department, where we have very big cohorts. Also, being forced to change to online assessments has really made us reflect on why we assess and what we are trying to achieve with the set assessments. We have been also having interesting discussions about the value of memorising in the digital age, what is and what is not plagiarism and whether or not we should try to police/ stop students collaborating with each other during online assessments: after all we keep talking all the time about how important ‘team work’ is.
As a BILT associate, I would like to be an ambassador for online assessments, disseminating what we have learnt in the department over the past few months. I aim to produce a case study with our experiences and also engage in discussion with others (starting with the new BILT associates in assessment and feedback). I would also like to discuss with other examiner officers about the future of exams, maybe through a workshop? Where we ask ourselves how exams will be held in 20 years time. I will be very pleased if I manage to develop, with others, a framework for optimal online assessments, including all technical aspects that need to be further improved.