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Transforming assessment: 5 key themes from the E-ATP conference

Gray Mytton Gray Mytton Assessment Innovation Manager at NCFE

Recently, I attended the largest assessment-focused community event in Europe – the 2022 E-ATP conference. Known as the European Home of Assessment, ATP Europe is leading the way on a collective mission to build better testing experiences, with their community constantly innovating and helping to transform the assessment process through technology, policy and practice.

The conference focused on the idea of connecting and learning from one another, and across the programme of presentations, sessions and workshops, some key themes became apparent to myself and my colleague Dean Blewitt, our Learning Innovation Manager, who was in attendance and presenting a session about our Assessment Innovation Fund to the conference.

Here, I’ll be delving into these themes and further exploring what they might mean for the future of assessment.

1. The importance of AI

As is always a popular topic at events on assessment and innovation, there was a lot of talk about how artificial intelligence (AI) is going to transform our ways of working alongside some quieter, but no less important, voices of reason about perpetuating biases, amongst other pitfalls.

The arguments for AI in assessment are of course plentiful, with its ability to enhance and automate low-level tasks and free up humans to tackle the more complex elements.

The current application of AI to NCFE is wide-ranging, touching processes such as item creation, performance metrics, awarding, quality assurance and content management. We’re already underway investigating if and how AI could improve our solutions.

2. Bringing learning and assessment together

It was highlighted that bringing learning and assessment closer together within a learner’s journey is a powerful way to achieve greater personalisation; this could be related to learning content, assessment content, learning level, time to competency, and others. If assessment can be captured and marked in real-time, adaptive learning journeys become possible – making this personalisation instant, automated and scalable.

Our Assessment Innovation team here at NCFE is currently investigating the impact of adaptive learning on the delivery of English and maths Functional Skills. Learners from colleges and training providers are using a bespoke adaptive platform that decides in real-time what the best next piece of learning or assessment content is for that individual, based on their previous interactions with the platform. Another group are being exposed to the same content in a traditional linear fashion and after their summative assessments, we’ll be comparing which was the best approach. We’ll be reporting on our findings between January and August next year.

3. Virtual reality developments

Developments in virtual reality (VR) on display at the event included the ability to verbally interact with avatars in a virtual learning space. This “natural” conversation opportunity replaces drop-down menus often seen in VR spaces, but not in real life and is a welcome addition.

Exciting developments that are coming soon include the ability to work in a VR space in a group (from anywhere in the world), which includes headsets that capture and reproduce your teammates’ eye movement and facial expressions, adding authenticity to the virtual experience. This metaverse-type experience is likely to get lots of attention from the big tech players, but countries will need to make sure that they’ve eradicated any digital deserts (areas with no or low bandwidth) to ensure that everyone can benefit from learning in this way.

VR appears unlikely to be deployed as a summative assessment vehicle in the immediate future – however, the benefits of having a safe space for learners to practice, fail, receive feedback and reflect becomes even more potent as virtual worlds become more lifelike. The Assessment Innovation Fund is currently supporting two VR-based projects and we continue to receive multiple applications for innovative VR assessment solutions in each funding window, demonstrating the boundless potential that VR holds.

4. The question of micro-credentials

Current trends in society point to the demand for smaller, faster, just-in-time learning, in order to fit the needs of learners and employers. Micro-credentials are a potential solution to the certification of these smaller programmes of learning, providing a quality-assured and valued credential that can stand on its own or be part of a bigger, stackable, set of credentials.

This appears to fit with current demands from learners for personalisation, as well as the demands from employers to support skills-based hiring and continuous professional development. However, we as awarding organisations must remain conscious that the addition of micro-credentials ensures added value, rather than simply replacing one type of certification with another.

5. Using assessment data

Schools and providers of education are regarded as “data-rich" – in this context, it means that the education establishment has access to a significant amount of data for the learner. From the research and pilots conducted to date, however, most establishments lack fluency with data in terms of how this is utilised and connected across the establishment. Generally, data is used for accountability purposes (to regulators, Ofsted, etc.) and interventions (reactive measures when a student is underperforming).

An overriding theme at the E-ATP conference was that data should be used more formatively, ensuring that data is used proactively to support student learning and with wider stakeholders such as parents and the students themselves. Our Innovation and Investment team is currently exploring the use of connected data within the Learner Journey Prototype, where this exploratory study will demonstrate the ‘art of possible’ using historic data at NCFE.

We’re on a mission to break boundaries in assessment and in 2021, we launched our Assessment Innovation Fund. You can learn more about the Assessment Innovation Fund and the successful applicants who are now carrying out pilots here.

The Assessment Innovation Fund is currently supporting two VR-based project and we continue to receive multiple applications for innovative VR assessment solutions in each funding window, demonstrating the boundless potential that VR holds.

Gray Mytton, Assessment Innovation Manager at NCFE