How E-Learning Is Transforming Academic Assessments

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One of the most important parts of teaching is appropriate and adequate assessments. This is true both in the traditional model of learning and in e-learning. At the most basic level, assessments test how much knowledge students have retained from their learning and how well they’ve learned to apply it. This provides feedbacks not only to the students regarding what areas they need to improve in, but also to teachers regarding how they can improve their teaching methods. On a second level, assessments also provide a degree of motivation to students to study well. Many students have a competitive spirit and want to perform well. Even those who lack this competitive spirit are usually motivated by the disciplinary measures associated with low performance in assessments.

Assessments in Traditional Model of Learning

In the traditional model of learning, assessments are taken physically within a classroom. The students are made to sit in a classroom and attempt to solve the assessment designed by the teacher. Since assessments are seen as a way to test the students’ knowledge, they are not allowed to make use of their textbooks or notes or any other study material. Unfortunately, in Pakistan there exists a culture of rote-memorization. The teachers in many schools and colleges are unwilling to spend too much time and effort on assessments, so they decide to merely test how much the students remember from their course. There is little attempt to test how much the students have actually understood and how much knowledge they have learned to apply.

This means that students are encouraged to merely memorize the content of their course. There is little encouragement of understanding or critical thinking. Not surprisingly, this culture of rote-memorization has led to the stagnation of our educational sector as year after year students pass out from the education system with little understanding of what they have studied.

Assessments in E-Learning

Assessments in online courses take place in a completely different environment than in the traditional model. In online courses, the students are attempting the assessments from their home. There is no invigilator insight to ensure that no cheating takes place. The students have access to study material as well as the internet. In such a situation, it is a given that many students will resort to cheating.

Different platforms have resorted to different measures to stop or reduce teaching, especially over the last year as many educational institutes have shifted to distance learning classes. One of these measures has been to limit the time of the assessments, so that students don’t have enough time to make too much use of their study material. Alternatively, some institutes have insisted that students give assessments while keeping their webcam on so the online invigilator can ensure no cheating takes place.

It can be argued that both these measures are actually counterproductive, and outdated. They just attempt to replicate the environment of the traditional model of learning, with little regard to how e-learning is different.

A new Approach

Some institutes have distinguished themselves by adopting a new approach to assessments, one that is not only more suited for online assessments, but which also promotes understanding and application of knowledge. This approach has been to design an alternative form of assessment based not on testing the knowledge of students, but rather how they apply that knowledge in different scenarios based on their understanding of it.

This can be done in a number of different ways. Students can be required to do presentations and similar projects where they have to undertake some research in addition to what they have learned from their course. A second way is to design open-book exams which actually expect students to make use of their study material. Rather than testing how much students have memorised from their course, open-book exams test how well students can apply their knowledge in different problems, case studies and evaluations.

Ultimately this approach, whether in the form of projects or of open-book exams, promotes critical thinking. Students are required to think outside the confines of the classroom, to carry out their own research, and most importantly to truly understand what they have learnt. By having to apply their knowledge in various scenarios, that knowledge is then deeply ingrained within the students’ minds and they are more likely to remember it in the future than they would have through rote-memorisation.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that e-learning represents the future of education. It is transforming not just the way students are taught, but also how they are assessed. These transformations are especially important in a country like Pakistan, where the education system is stagnant and students are still being taught through outdated methods that stifle critical thinking and instead promote blind memorisation of content.

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