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After a year of online teaching, is academia ready to make 2021 the year of online assessment?

After reluctance throughout 2020, academicians envision online assessment to be more popular in 2021. But not without developing infrastructure capacity and changing the patterns and objectives of exams

Written by Shyna Kalra | New Delhi | Updated: December 31, 2020 3:51:10 pm
yeaender, yearender 2020, education 2020 yearender, yearender indianexpress, 2020 education wrapup, education news, online education, online assessment,Despite the reluctance, the online assessment is expected to be the next big thing for the Indian education industry. (Image by Pixabay/Representational)

Like everything else in 2020, the education system too bore the wrath of the coronavirus pandemic. Academics moved online, board examinations for some subjects were cancelled and high-stake exams of engineering and medical entrances were held after delays and despite protests. As of now, while students across all levels remain apprehensive of going to physical exam centres, the academia continues to be reluctant in embracing online examinations or the online assessment system even though there has been some acceptance, thanks to several years of edtech and learning platforms.

While AI-proctored exams-from-home made their entry this year, there were only a handful of institutes that got onboard with the new system. Indian academia says unequal access and lack of an anti-cheating mechanism in the new mode of examination are the reasons why they are wary. As many as 70 per cent of educational institutes believe cheating prevention to be the most pressing concern for conducting important exams online, a ‘State of online examinations 2020’ report by Mercer Mettl claimed.

Not only exams but day-to-day assessment or feedback is another key challenge that educators say they routinely face. They say there is a lack of focus among students in assessment technologies and that it is difficult to figure out whether or not each student is able to understand the subject being taught online.

For those who had access to technology, questionnaires and surveys are the key way for feedbacks while for the have-nots, the mode of feedback was limited to calls and WhatsApp chats dedicated to doubt clearing.

Despite the reluctance, the online assessment is expected to be the next big thing for the Indian education industry. “The ongoing challenges remain to have digital accessibility and data equity so that educational and examination tools can reach the last student, irrespective of their location and strength of data bandwidth connectivity. Also, there is the need to make students, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders more tech-enabled and comfortable with the vast technological and digital transformation in education and examination domains,” said Siddhartha Gupta, CEO, Mercer Mettl, who claims to have seen a growth of up to 80 per cent in their business in education domain.

Read | The Class of 2020: From deferred exams to closure of schools, how education coped with a pandemic

He also stated, “Education can’t go back to physical-only mode. It will either be hybrid or comprehensively digital. As per various reports, the assessment industry will grow up to 10.73 billion, and that’s a huge margin we are looking at. The growth in the assessment industry has been phenomenal, and a lot of market players and new startups are joining the league, continuously upping the game and competition, bringing more innovations in their wake. So, a larger addressable market has got created. One thing’s certain, the assessment industry is going to grow better, bullish, and more data-oriented.”

Just like teaching methodology, Ramananda SG, VP sales and marketing, Pearson India, believes that rules of assessment too need to see a shift. “The big shift included embracing assessments for improved learning rather than assessing oneself to recollect the concepts. The shift towards assessment for learning is reinforced by the extensive use of adaptive learning and learning management systems.”

Pearson — which offered an all-India proctored test in India — claims that there has been a slight shift in mindset. It claims that the personalised feedback which online assessments offer can be a game-changer, however, communicating the feedback timely can prove to be a challenge.

Read | 2020 was a year of struggle, innovation for teachers

Many academicians also believe that the nature of examination and questions too needs to be changed for the online exams.

Treasurer, FICCI ARISE, Anirudh Khaitan claims that there will be a paradigm shift in the assessment domain in the Indian Education System in 2021, however, sensitisation is needed first. “Online assessment results of students performance is overwhelming compared to the real knowledge and pre-Covid performance of these students, visibly indicating a ‘learning gap’. It is critical to reforms the examinations with the technology up-gradation as long as it is supported by external factors necessary for ensuring integrity.”

“To ensure the integrity of online assessments, we need to include questions that require higher-order of thinking, using varied question types, prohibiting backtracking, restricting testing window, setting up the exam in such a way that it shows one question at a time and finally politely reminding the students about academic integrity policies. These rules should be applicable for all the students appearing for the exams and transparency must be maintained by all the parties involved,” said Taranjit Singh, Managing Director, JIS Group.

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