Top ways an online assessment platform helps higher education streamline its processes

Kayleigh Kahlefeldt|January 15, 2021

With more than 1.3 million students undergoing periodic assessment, higher education institutions are under increasing pressure to streamline.

Easier said than done, when there are so many processes to bring together to create a successful test experience. In the past, these have been entrenched in paper from start to finish. These days, most institutions are delivering at least a portion of their tests online. Or, at the very least, looking into digital exams.

And that’s a really good thing. An assessment platform can dramatically alter the test experience, providing time, effort, cost and environmental savings that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago. Not to mention a student experience that’s primed for success.

Key efficiencies of an online assessment platform

When it comes to online assessment platforms there’s a whole range of people who won’t argue with you about efficiency improvements to their world. These include academic staff, examiners, marking teams and the students themselves, who gain in different ways from more streamlined processes.

1. Streamlining time

An undeniable advantage of an online exam platform for higher education, is the sheer magnitude of time savings for every role involved.

For your education staff it means greatly reduced authoring hours, as they create sophisticated tests in as little as 30 minutes. Generating an assessment from scratch is a huge effort. Digital platforms are smart on your behalf. They use authoring wizards, allowing academics to pick from a huge selection of question types (Janison has 40 plus, with hundreds of variations, including multiple choice, video, drawing and freeform text) to create relevant and accurate tests.

One of the largest time savers, according to Janison’s assessment product expert Gary Haslam is item banking, which gives you the ability to ‘bank’ and tag items for pulling into tests. “You can even create test blueprints,” he says. “These extract relevant questions from banked items in response to a set of criteria input by you. Authoring a test in this way not only saves the author valuable hours, but the next author and the next, as the efficiencies of leveraging templates passes down the line.”

But you still need to mark them, right? When we conjure an image of someone marking exams it’s impossible not to imagine them exhausted and drowning in test papers until the early hours. I wonder how accurate that marking could be at 2AM? One of the most powerful time-saving arguments for digitising the exam platform for institutions is auto-marking. What a game-changer.

Online platforms are AI-enabled to self-mark where possible and route to a marker for human interpretation where necessary. This is where time savings and user experience cross paths; the anxiety levels of students eagerly awaiting their results are undoubtedly lower when they are returned in 24 hours versus weeks.

2. Streamlining effort

Needless to say, time savers are also effort savers. However, there’s another notable effort advantage of working within an online assessment platform: workflow. The higher education sector has been crying out for end-to-end streamlining of the assessment workflow as a way to manage admin workloads.

A digital workflow that guides people intuitively from authoring to marking, including every step in between, in a centralised, collaborative system visible to everyone, prevents duplication of effort. It also greatly reduces the human resources required to coordinate test-related activity, leading to smarter workload balance across the admin team. “The system, not the people, is responsible for checkpoints along assessment timelines,” says Gary.

Managing marking teams can also be human resource intensive, due to the high number of interaction points needed for monitoring and benchmarking scripts, sampling and applying other quality controls. “An online assessment platform is programmed to detect out-of-tolerance marking far more efficiently than humans,” Gary explains.

Blind monitoring is a good example of this process efficiency in action. A marker is subject to scripts that have been covertly marked by a chief marker. If they mark within an acceptable tolerance range, they continue. If they mark outside of this range, the system generates a flag. Do it repeatedly and there might be cause for intervention to ensure the marker is not fatigued or unintentionally going off track. Perhaps some enablement is required to help them realign.  “This doesn’t just save people, it ensures consistency,” Gary adds.

3. Streamlining costs

When it comes to money it’s hard to pinpoint an area where higher education doesn’t derive savings from digital efficiencies. Even so, there are some quick ROI wins, the most obvious being handling paper exams. Shipping of exam papers to test centres, collecting them, packaging them up for marking and sending them for storage is expensive.

By way of example, the shredding of UK SAT papers when exams were cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis came at an estimated cost of £2.7 million ($4,800 AUD). Reportedly the collected papers would have reached 25 times the height of the Eiffel Tower; far too costly to store indefinitely. A valuable lesson for institutions in these uncertain times!

An online assessment platform has a digital advantage. Everything, from producing papers to storing and sharing them, happens electronically. Markers can even mark remotely, saving travel costs. In fact, there are no fuel or transportation costs involved, no human resource budget allocation required for collecting papers and no storage costs at any point – not to mention no risk of papers being stolen or going missing in transit.

Tests can also be delivered into students’ homes and electronically proctored using AI-based technology which is capable of identifying the presence of a student, absence of others and even the existence on the desk of a non-permitted aid, such as a smartphone.

4. Saving the environment

Increasingly top of mind for higher education leaders is sustainability. For ethical reasons of course. But, also because of the potential for paper savings to deliver a positive financial impact through streamlining assessment processes.

Studies looking into the cost of paper in universities reveal schools and higher education institutions contribute something in the region of 132,125 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere over 10 years. The dollar cost of authoring and marking those papers over the same time period is estimated to be $4,732 million*. That’s simply unpalatable for many educators in a climate conscious world.

So, what are the roadblocks to transitioning to online?

If streamlining assessment processes is the fast path to time, effort, cost and environmental efficiencies what’s stopping us? “In two words, change management,” Gary says. “Education has evaded large-scale disruption until recently. The global pandemic has changed everything. We’ve been inspired by the resulting innovation. Naturally for some, there remain a few unknowns to explore before they’re convinced.”

These include the perceived risks of trusting student data to the cloud. The fact is, online assessment platforms are designed for resilience against data breaches, identity falsification and human errors like loss. Digitising human touch points makes it infinitely less likely for any harm to come to assessment-related data.

Student privacy is another, given that tests are recorded. However, feedback from students indicates that the ability to take important tests in a relaxed setting outweighs any other concern. “Not only did I feel less stressed and more confident, but I felt as though the whole exam season didn’t completely consume me like in the past,” says Roie Toogood, a former University of Melbourne student in a blog post recounting her exam experience from her bedroom delivered via Janison Remote.

Janison debunks these and other myths in a publicly available free eBook. In addition, Gary says: “We advise institutions to plan how they’re going to communicate to all parties to bring them on board and enable them for success. It could also mean appointing champions from among early adopter departments to bring other departments along on the journey.”

Transform your institutions assessment into a smooth, efficient process. See more of our online assessment solutions and features here.

About the Author

Kayleigh Kahlefeldt

Founder, Cornerstone Content

View more blog posts

Subscribe to the Janison Blog