‘This cannot go on. Our school exams are running the risk of becoming invalid, as their medium of pen and ink increasingly differs from the way in which youngsters learn.’ At last someone has said it. And, encouragingly, that someone is Ofqual chief executive Isabel Nisbet, writing today in the TES.
Our job as educators is to prepare our students for the big wide world beyond full time education. But in that big wide world your boss won’t expect you to produce that paper as 10 neatly handwritten sides of A4. Your work colleagues won’t want your contributions to the project to be within the confines of an exercise book, however well presented. So why do we have students work like that in school? The only possible reason is the assessment format we use and have used since time immemorial. The hand written examination paper.
We are now well into the 21st century. We have, as they say, the technology. Yes, there are aspects of computer-based assessment that need thinking through. But, as a representative of AQA told us at the recent ISC ICT conference, e-assessment is perfectly practicable for all types of examination, not just multiple choice tests. And quite a bit of work has been done by this forward-thinking awarding body through various pilot schemes.
And, when the black hat wearers suggest it is just not possible because of the sheer number of IT rooms that would be needed, let us remember that the future of computing is clearly not fixed, but mobile. Within a very short space of time, it will be entirely practicable to replicate the serried ranks of scribblers with equally serried but technologically equipped ranks. Whether you go down the laptop route, like Norway, or look to the tablet / pad solution, it can very certainly be done.
I am glad that someone with the clout of Isabel Nisbet is speaking out on this issue and let’s hope it opens up a meaningful debate on the future of assessment. But maybe I shouldn’t get too excited just yet. According to the TES, the Department for Education said it did not have a view on the computerisation of exams or want to be drawn into the debate. Oh well.