By Published On: March 26th, 2021

Prior to 2020, most mainstream universities had really only dipped their toes in wholesale enhancement of assessment processes. Fully online approaches were never truly tested at scale – until COVID forced the issue. The peak of the pandemic moved the dial to full scale online delivery, and universities are now reviewing the right balance moving forward. UniForum members understand that maintaining an online and on campus hybrid model may involve significant cost and complexity. Perspectives amongst members vary about what the future of this service will look like, but few believe a return to pre-COVID models is realistic.

The Cubane team recently conducted an in-depth study looking at the shift towards online assessment delivery amongst our ANZ members. Varying maturity levels in service models meant some universities were more prepared than others to quickly adapt to the unique and rapidly changing demands of 2020. Nonetheless, common challenges face all as the trajectory towards online transformation continues for this critical student service. Amongst the detailed findings of this study, three key themes emerged: the importance of robust guiding principles, the nuance required in translating traditional exams into the online sphere, and the need to keep the student experience in focus.

1. The importance of robust guiding principles

Some of the universities contributing to the study were ahead of the curve in developing online assessment capability, having established clear design principles and a long-term strategy for implementation in advance of the COVID crisis. To give a flavour, guiding principles included things like:

  • end-to-end process ownership
  • technology enabled workflows between assessment preparation, delivery and follow-up
  • well-defined performance measurement and a feedback loop

As such, when crisis struck, these universities were able to acclimatise quickly. However, many universities are still finding their feet given the urgency under which new online assessment processes were developed in 2020. Clear guiding principles to transition from traditional protocols will be key to establishing efficient and effective online assessment models that are sustainable.

2. The challenge of translating traditional exam practice to the online sphere

Converting traditional exam practices into the online world requires nuance – invigilation is a key example. The choice of whether to adopt online proctoring technology, and if so which provider among a suite of market options, exposed a key challenge: how to balance academic integrity, privacy concerns and user experience? Some members elected to follow a ‘goodwill’ approach, which was met with surges in student misconduct incidents and associated workload. For those who did seek out online proctoring services, concerns were raised about the security of data and the privacy and comfort of the student, prompting some to turn to innovative in-house solutions. Looking forward, even for those most advanced in this space, the challenge remains to provide high quality invigilation at scale whilst controlling costs.

3. Keeping the student experience front of mind

The experience of the student has to be at the centre of any efforts to improve assessment services. This is particularly so given what a vital, high-stakes point in the student journey examinations are, and the stressors students face at this time. Most members reported the collection of student feedback (e.g. surveys) to understand what has and has not worked well in the move online. However, some have taken this further, positioning the student as a vital and proactive stakeholder in the development of their online assessment model. At one university, an in-house process-wide system for online assessments was built in collaboration with a team of student representatives, all of whom were required to sign off before launch. Keeping the student voice as the focal point will be key moving forward as universities navigate uncharted territory.

These are the three common themes that stood out for the universities we spoke to: do they match your own? If you’d like to share your own challenges or good practice around online assessment, or hear more about lessons learned from the global UniForum programme, then please do get in touch via LinkedIn or contacting us by email.

This article was jointly authored by Holly Cameron, Senior Business Analyst and James Catts, Managing Director – ANZ.

About the Author: James Catts

James is the Managing Director of Cubane in ANZ and an accomplished benchmarking and business transformation specialist in the university sector, having worked in leading management consulting firms. He is recognised for his ability to lead large complex projects across the end-to-end cycle of business transformation engagements with proven business performance uplift. His benchmarking and business transformation experience has enabled him to work extensively with C-level executives and senior management to shape and deliver high impact service delivery, technology and business change programs. By leveraging robust performance benchmarks, he has enjoyed setting the vision and developing a fact based approach to business transformation. To contact James please email [email protected]