European universities develop and discuss together digital forms of assessment

The global pandemic has shown the importance of comprehensive assessment. FernUniversität in Hagen coordinates eAssessment roundtable discussions, in which the Open University of the University of Jyväskylä is one of the partners. Distance learning universities are exchanging ideas and experiences with digital forms of assessment such as proctoring, open book exams, and continuous assessment. Cooperation in the development of the alternative assessment forms began in October 2020 and will continue in Spring 2021.

COVID-19 has made the need for digital and alternative types of exams clear for all higher education institutions. Assessment of students’ academic performance through exams has become a particular area of focus, in which a wide variety of new formats are currently being developed and discussed.

Because distance learning universities are especially sought-after in this context and their diverse student bodies have similar needs for flexibility, the FernUniversität in Hagen invited its partner institutions Open University of the University of Jyväskylä, Universidad Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and Open Universiteit Nederland to take part in a series of roundtable discussions.

High Priority of Proctoring

“Proctoring is a high-priority topic at the FernUniversität at the moment,” reported Dr. Andreas Kempka from the FernUniversität’s Coordinating Office for e-Learning and Educational Technology (eKOO). Along with staff from the FernUniversität’s Center for Media and IT (ZMI), the International Office, and the Chief Digital Officer, Kempka participated in the dialogue. “Overall there have been a lot of pilot projects in this area with different providers, although the legal frameworks for exams and data protection law, as well as the capacities of the systems involved, represent the biggest challenges on a European level.”

In addition to developing new digital exam formats, online proctoring represents another important strategy for digitalizing examinations. With proctoring, types of assessments that have historically been easily scalable, such as written exams, can still be carried out under fair conditions from a distance.

“In the Faculty of Psychology, we had already begun a pilot program for computer-supported exams in the regional centers at the beginning of 2020, before we were faced with new challenges due to corona,” said Prof. Dr. Stefan Stürmer, Dean of the Faculty of Psychology from FernUniversität. “In Jyväskylä and at the Open Universiteit this model has already been successfully implemented in many centers for some time, including in cooperation with traditional in-person universities.”

The UOC has developed a system that makes it possible to organize and hold oral final exams while maintaining appropriate data protection. “With our app, we can already carry out a large number of exams digitally,” explained Sergi Martinez and Laura Castillo from the UOC’s eLearn Center.

Regular Meetings Planned

Beyond technical and legal questions, alternative formats such as open book exams and continuous assessment, which evaluates students’ progress throughout the course, will be discussed. All participants agreed that the first two meetings are only the beginning of the exchange, which was initiated by the FernUniversität’s International Office.

“In 2021, we will engage in regular dialogue, because we only profit from the experiences of our partners and we can make progress together,” commented Markku Närhi, Head of IT at the University of Jyväskylä. How to organize digital, secure, and resilient systems of assessment will be a major topic in the next years.

The partners will also participate in the European working group on eAssessment, which is currently being formed in the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU). “We urgently need a Europe-wide solution and consistent implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation,” declared Professor Jose Janssen of the Open Universiteit. This can only be achieved in dialogue between distance learning universities and policymakers on a European level.