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Delivering higher education assessments online will transform efficiencies in a system already estimated to cost into the billions according to new research.

‘Next Generation Assessment’, prepared by Professor Hamish Coates in collaboration with OES, outlines a new framework for online assessment that aims to free up time for academics and cut costs for universities.

The paper details how boutique academic practices are being stretched beyond their limit due to increased student growth, given the number of people participating in Australian higher education has risen by 40 per cent over the last decade.

Professor Coates recommends student assessments move into the 21st century to keep up with demand: “How we perform assessments today is done much as it was a century ago. Technology must be utilised to rejuvenate practices and deliver a contemporary curriculum.

“It is estimated that over the last 20 years, the number of pieces of assessment in Australia’s higher education sector has risen from around seven to nearly 30 million.

“With no change in process, this is an approximated quadrupling in recurrent annual costs to more than AUD$400 million for marking alone – all up, this might be costing close to a billion annually,” Professor Coates said.

With global student numbers set to reach 265 million by 2025, universities are under increasing pressure to cater to more students whilst simultaneously becoming more efficient by cutting costs.

 

“Graduate employer and business concerns about education standards ultimately fall back to concerns about assessment. By doing assessment better and cheaper there is enormous educational and financial value to be found for institutions, faculty, students and governments.” Professor Hamish Coates

OES Academic Executive Director, Sue Kokonis said incorporating technology in assessments is an opportunity to rethink and innovate current practices to improve the student experience.

“Today’s university students are completing assignments and projects using a variety of technologies, from programs and tools to research methods, all to support the learning process.

“Modernising the process has the potential to make assessment more relevant and better align with current learning processes leading to a more authentic evaluation.

“It is vital to use evidence-based approaches to ensure teaching and learning continue to be innovated in order to provide the best experience for students,” said Ms Kokonis.

Professor Coates explains some current assessment practices have become hard to scale and ‘business as usual’ is unlikely to prevail.

“Legacy practices have been stretched taut and patched for bigger delivery as higher education has expanded. Many assessments are created as conservative adaptations of existing education and management practices, so framed in opaque ways with respect to relic resources.

“There are strategic institutional rationales for finding innovative ways to assess student learning.

“Graduate employer and business concerns about education standards ultimately fall back to concerns about assessment. By doing assessment better and cheaper there is enormous educational and financial value to be found for institutions, faculty, students and governments.”

The research acknowledges there is no quick or cheap fix to assessment reform. According to Professor Coates, activating next generation assessment will need initial investment in building infrastructure that promises technical and financial returns.

“Assessment matters enormously to higher education. This research invites people with vested interests in higher education to recognise current problems and imagine the shape of things to come.”

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