Digital Assessment Technologies

Digital technologies provide an interesting medium through which assessment practices can be implemented (Keppell et al 2006), while offering a wide range of assessment strategies and formats (Byrnes and Ellis 2006). This includes, amongst others, the use of clickers during computer-generated and -scored tests and quizzes, computer simulations in authentic assessment tasks, web quests, blogs and wikis (Palloff and Pratt 2009). This section of the literature review discusses 3 particular digital technologies, mainly clickers, simulations and wikis in relation to their potential in assessment practices and contexts.

Figure 16 Digital Assessment Technologies [edited and adapted by S. Bezzina]

Clickers can facilitate class interaction and dialogue (Wheeler and Wheeler 2009), while providing individualised and group feedback that is immediate (Bloxham and Boyd 2007, Whitelock 2006) and appropriate (Bull and McKenna 2003, Hepplestone et al 2011). However, the use of clickers does not automatically equate to active and participative students, as the interaction and dialogue around learning requires strong pedagogical and methodological interventions, from both the students and teacher (Trees and Jackson 2007). Similarly, although simulations can allow students to control experimental variables, thus encouraging discovery and exploration (Eskrootchi and Oskrochi 2010), they can also produce heavy cognitive workloads, leaving students overwhelmed and confused with the amount of information processing required during the simulation (Dunleavy et al 2009). Despite the fact that wikis facilitate a multimodal approach to learning (Sanden and Darragh 2011) and allow for the sharing of resources and knowledge (Naismith et al 2011), their open-access nature can pose challenges to students with low technical skills (Deters et al 2010) and raise questions about authorship and ownership (Lamb 2004).

It is thus important to realise that the real potential of digital technologies for learning and assessment is created, in a paradigmatic sense, through the coming together of the pedagogy and the medium (Cousin 2005). As such, Cousin (2005), drawing on the idea of McLuhan and Fiore (1967) that ‘the medium is the massage’ (McLuhan and Fiore 1967, p 26), argues that pedagogies and technologies are in a mutual, dynamic and dependent relationship, as the medium does to an extent constitute the pedagogy (Cousin 2005). The abovementioned use of the different digital technologies for assessment purposes, requires a complementary pedagogical approach which does not regard technology as an add-on or extension to the ‘real’ teacher and/or student (Garrison and Anderson 2003), but as a powerful medium possessing intrinsic social and cultural qualities (Warschauer 2007). This sociomaterial perspective on digital technologies rejects ontological separations as teaching, learning and assessment essentially involve and are dependent upon social and material practices and forces (Fenwick et al 2011). In this sense, and in line with the cultural-historical activity theory (Engeström 2001), the social and material come together in an activity system where cognition becomes a complex social phenomenon (Lave 1988). As such, the system is not one about human and material in a distinctive sense, but comes through as a dynamic activity, resulting from the enmeshed relationship that occurs when academic practices and material contexts come together through definite actions (Bayne 2014). Similarly to games, such materials become ’smart tools’ (Gee 2007, p 217), as cognition and knowledge are not confined to the individual, but are instead distributed between the human, the artefact and the surrounding environment (Flor and Hutchins 1991); further reinforcing the idea that ‘technologies work dynamically with pedagogies, not for them’ (Cousin 2005, p 118).

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