The growing importance of digital assessments

Author: Ingrid Melve (Follow on Twitter: @imelve)

NTNU, a lovely technical university in Trondheim, Sweden. Photo by Eirik Refsdal.

NTNU, a lovely technical university in Trondheim, Norway.
Photo by Eirik Refsdal.

I admit to being fascinated by universities and their IT systems, and not least their Internet infrastructure. I realize that I should not have a love affair with several institutions at once (and to be precise, an institutionalized love affair is more properly a marriage, of which one should definitely not have more than one at a time). But the fascination offered by the Internet itself is hard to resist.

One of the best things about working for a national research and education network is the people I meet. Whenever there is a really challenging situation involving the internet, someone at a university will pick up a keyboard or a phone or a coffee cup and involve us in the discussion. This trust is not built easily, and it needs to be reinforced by working together and sharing information continuously.

Our latest hard-to-solve issue has been investigating what happens when assessments move online in the cloud, and the students bring their own devices to the mix.  Why all the interest in this area? There is combination setting up a perfect storm:

students protest the use of paper for text processing, something which is understandable, especially since upper secondary schools have equipped all students with laptops for the past five year, and upper secondary assessments are digital

move to the cloud makes it easy to deploy large scale solutions for BYOD environments

eduroam and wifi is everywhere, making it possible to have clients on and off campus, even for high availability and high security situations

restructuring universities and merging institutions creates opportunities for procedural changes

web everywhere and consistent user experiences makes it easier to implement solutions across platforms

No less than five national working groups have looked into various aspects of the issue and worked on documenting best current practice:

1) how to build infrastructure for examination sites both on and off campus
2) requirements for student PCs (BYOD)
3) defining a coherent assessment process, with workflow and description of what is involved in assessments both on the learning and the administration side
4) ICT architecture for assessment: information architecture and process overviews (recent results are published)
5) integration requirements, with testing and live operations of a shared integration point (this group is not done, as they are still working on the recent input from the other groups)

Does this work have impact? Well there is proposal to change national legislation to ensure that BYOD is possible, requiring each student to bring a PC to university (currently in hearing until the end of summer). This was not only proposed by the working groups, but also supported by The Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions.

Another example is that new buildings are following the recommendations for building infrastructure. We are not done, but have more and more institutions coming in to the work and wanting to contribute. And we suspect that there are issues that may challenge us. To me it serves as an illustration of the power of a community speaking with a coherent voice.

The willingness to work together and share best practices never stops to amaze me. Pooling resources makes sense in a small country like Norway. Maybe shared work also comes with bragging rights, being able to point to specific parts contributed. Of course there is a bit of common sense in sharing the work, but common sense is a lot less common than one would think from the name. My conclusion is that contributing to the community is a joy. And hard work.