Module 4: Designing meaningful and effective digital assessment and feedback

Landing the Concept
Take Action
Test Yourself

Landing the Concept

Debates about how to properly design assessment and feedback in digital environments are assuming an increasingly central character in Higher Education, with the increasing pervasiveness of digital technologies (particularly the Learning Management System – LMS), the rise of fully online qualifications (including trans-national education partnerships) and the disruption brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, that is added to many other situations of crisis, worldwide. There are growing concerns about integrity where face-to-face examinations might not be feasible, and opportunities and constraints for assessment design and feedback are not yet broadly understood. At the same time, critical voices in the TEL arena have argued that an increasing overreliance on anti-plagiarism software and online proctoring solutions  not only creates a hostile environment, but is grounded on a lack of capacity to design assessment suitable for online spaces and may even result in new forms of discrimination and have privacy consequences  (Morris and Stommel 2017, Swauger 2020).

Online environments do in fact provide rich opportunities for ongoing assessment, from the most basic quiz softwares (Socrative and Poll Everywhere, Quizizz and Kahoot ), to video-based assessments (EdPuzzle and Playposit, Flipgrid), to simulations (which are particularly relevant when considering subjects with a strong practical and face-to-face element, such as health; see Tabatai, 2020). Of particular relevance is the opportunity for students to develop digital portfolios (using personal websites built through institutional domains), not only moving towards more authentic assessment but developing the students’ capacity to critically negotiate their online presence (Nascimbeni et al. 2018).

According to Phil Race, one of the most-cited authors in this field, feedback should: be timely, be individualised, be empowering, open doors and be manageable (on both staff and students side).

Recently, debates on the framing, usefulness and appropriateness of grades & grading as a whole have also grown, with discussions about how the pandemic, having exacerbated inequalities of access and achievement, can be an opportunity to rethink our approaches (Tanenbaum & Gallagher, 2020) or to outright consider ungrading (Morris, 2021).

We invite you now to check out some content with useful tips relating to the design of assessment and how to give feedback to students:

Take Action!

Now that you have explored some  key challenges and opportunities associated with the design of assessment and feedback in digital spaces, we invite you to engage in the following activities:

  1. Following the relevant guidelines established by your institution and with the aim of inspiring educators at your department, outline an example of digital assessment designed to prevent plagiarism.
  2. Outline a decalogue (it can be less than ten, but no more) with top tips to help educators at your institution give effective and meaningful feedback to the digital assessment you have designed in the previous exercise.
  3. [Optional Activity, as suggested by Jess Stommell] If you are interested in exploring ungrading,​ invite student representatives from your school/department to a conversation about grades: ask them how being graded makes them feel, how it affects their motivation. As a group, you can also read and discuss a piece like Alfie Kohn’s “The Case Against Grades.”
  4. Share your finding, reflections and difficulties with other participants in the course.

Test Yourself