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Assessment reform, innovative technology, improving formative assessment and feedback : are they at odds with each other?

If you attended the talk and don't mind the effort, I'd be really grateful to hear your views, on whether the sub-fields within e-assessment are at odds with each other, by email:

Title: Assessment reform, innovative technology, improving formative assessment and feedback : are they at odds with each other?
Date/time: Friday 31 Aug 2012. Session: PM Parallel Sessions 'seminar 2' (our own slot: 1:50pm - 2:20pm room LT2).
Occasion: eAssessment Scotland 2012
Place: University of Dundee   Dalhousie Building
How to get there: Instructions

Sue Timmis,   Graduate School of Education,   University of Bristol.
Steve Draper,   School of Psychology,   University of Glasgow.

Slides: PDF
Handout: PDF file
Related material:


Recently we were participants at a seminar reviewing a draft literature review of "e-Assessment". This paper will explore a number of particular views and standpoints on 'e-Assessment' that were part of the discussions. We argue that rather than assuming common ground and common aims, there are strong contrasts amongst multiple fields with competing discourses, values, goals, literatures and perspectives. These fields include assessment reformers, technology developers, e-learning optimists and supporters, technology sceptics, learning and teaching researchers and practitioners, socio-technical commentators, efficiency and cost benefit analysts.

Three of these positions will be outlined below, though the paper explores the relationships of all of the above and invites discussion of the differences in positions and the difficulties that this presents in making progress on 'e-assessment' and its relationship to wider educational agendas.

Assessment reformers' starting point is that assessment of learners for accountability and development has long been in need of rethinking as it has not kept up with the pace of change in education (with respect to ecological and community validity, social justice, and benefits for learners and learning) and is not 'fit for purpose' (Broadfoot, 2007, Pellegrino and Quellmalz, 2010). Rowntree's (1977) list of 17 principles of good assessment remain valid and yet it appears that little has changed in the intervening 35 years except where this has been imposed by legislation. Thus this field is characterised by a lack of progress due to political and cultural barriers that have made reform seem unobtainable. Yet assessment reformers increasingly look towards digital technologies as a potential means of reconfiguring assessment within a broader educational landscape.

The work of researchers and innovators of technologies for supporting assessment is often driven by novelty and what Herring (2004) refers as the 'passing parade of technologies', focussed on the next 'best thing', imagining how it will be used and useful. This suggests that usually accepted assumptions rather than novel insights are consulted; not least because people will be excited to the degree that they too can instantly imagine its appeal. Inventions that don't instantly seem useful are less appealing. This may sometimes hinder rather than encourage educational innovation.

Learning from feedback is the goal of many researchers and practitioners focussed on the pedagogical goal of improving learning outcomes by supporting better feedback or new forms of assessment strategy or practice. This field pays particular attention to learning, for example, increases in the quality or quantity of learning outcomes, and subordinates technology to the learning design employed in each case. It presupposes that feedback helps learning (although there are some bits of evidence that seem to go against this) and that "assessment" is there to give opportunities for feedback. It remains silent on the main use of assessment for accreditation or on reforming assessment.

Although these fields are well aware that they need to draw from each other, we will consider their differences and the areas of contradiction and tension amongst them. The paper will show how the different perspectives might act as counterbalances rather than working towards common goals which may indicate some reasons for the lack of the vision that is often called for in 'e-Assessment' circles.

In order to book online and obtain further information about the conference please visit; or otherwise contact Kenji Lamb at klamb AT

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