There was a time not long ago when undergraduate and postgraduate students spent the last few weeks of each study period preparing for the pressures of examinations. For many, the process of sitting in large halls for several hours using only pen and paper to demonstrate their skills and accumulated knowledge was daunting. For others, this was the type of environment they had trained in to secure academic success and they thrived on being able to predict questions, structure answers under the pressure of time and write lucidly (and legibly).
The events of the COVID-19 pandemic and the movement of numerous forms of learning online changed the way many business schools now think about assessment. Most business schools hold a strong commitment to ensuring their graduates are career-ready and possess contemporary skills to succeed and grow in employment. This is especially the case for universities with a strong tradition of working closely with enterprise and seeking to make a real-world impact, like the University of South Australia. And yet one of the ironies of using ‘traditional’ examinations is that these arrangements led to a portion of students who were prima facie ‘successful’ graduating while not being especially competent in the world of work. Similarly, some who struggled with traditional examinations discovered later that they had aptitudes that employers and markets valued and these were never formally assessed.
The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic prevented large crowds being assembled in examination halls meant that new forms of assessment were rushed and pushed out to business schools, regardless of their ambitions around graduate capabilities. The first response for most was to move ‘examinations’ online, in the knowledge that it then became more difficult to control the setting under which students were assessed. Two options were generally invoked to deal with this: (1) the establishment of online proctoring, where students are monitored remotely during the course of the examination and (2) a transition to time-bound ‘open book’ assessment. The former approach allowed institutions to retain the ‘traditional’ assessment while the later moved closer to the real-world of work.
While these events have exposed the benefits of having students perform in a ‘real-world’ setting, it has also raised challenges. Probably the most concerning has been the stresses placed on the integrity of online open-book assessments. Cheat sites have quickly promulgated, raising anxieties for some professional accrediting bodies. Nonetheless, reverting to traditional examinations as the conditions of the pandemic change runs the risk of failing to take an opportunity from this world crisis.
The University of South Australia has committed to instigating authentic assessment in all of its programs, including those in Business. This commitment has seen academic staff create a range of assessment techniques that harness the benefits of placing students in real-world environments where they must solve genuine problems.
In some cases, this has prompted expanded use of viva voce, where students respond verbally to questions. This need not be limited to smaller groups and can be effectively employed across large cohorts. The process can also be undertaken in-person or online and often better reflects the environment where many business graduates will operate.
In other cases, especially where quantitative problem solving is valued, students are set tasks that require careful use of spreadsheets and analytical software. Automatically randomizing the questions and making the tasks timebound has controlled the integrity of the process. Again, this has also led to better outcomes in terms of preparing graduates. More particularly, students increasingly understand the need to produce high quality and defendable responses within a time constrained environment; precisely the type of environment where many will operate. There is also the opportunity for the student to show initiative.
By Nicole Beaumont, Accreditation and Quality Assurance Manager, University of South Australia. This article was from the QS Global Education News Issue 10. Download the full edition.