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E-assessment practices and theories

O'Keeffe, Cormac (2013) E-assessment practices and theories. In: Association for Learning Technology 2013, 2013-09-102013-09-12, Manchester. (Unpublished)

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Traditional or ‘paper and pen’ and face-to-face assessments are still widely used but as new technologies assume a greater role in education, so to does assessment by and through new technologies. This paper explores the research literature around e-assessment practices. Using an approach informed by material semiotics, this study looks at research trends in the theories, modes, types, geographical distribution and purposes of e-assessment: • Much of the research on e-assessment seems to focus on formative rather than summative assessment. • Blended e-assessment is the most prevalent mode. • Many countries are under represented and much of the research on e-assessment tends to be dominated by Taiwan, the UK and the USA. • The research into formative assessment tended to investigate the usefulness of formative assessment as preparation for summative assessment and not as an end it itself. • Automated short answer assessments (multiple choice, fill in the blank, drag and drop, short text) remain the most common form of e-assessment. • Of the texts reviewed, over half made no reference to theory. Nevertheless theory was present albeit in a less evident way. When no explicit link to a theory was made for either explanatory or testing purposes, other terms such as ‘collaborative assessment’, ‘assessment for learning’, ‘cognitive’ were used. The majority of the studies where no theory was mentioned and determining the implicit theory was difficult employed statistical and experimental methods and methodologies. Avoiding theories of learning when designing or researching e-assessment risks excluding educators and learners from e-assessment. E-assessments that use automated marking, whether it be for short answer or extended writing tasks, regardless of how sophisticated the algorithm or software, all rely on repositories of reference answers, predefined models and templates to perform. These will allow the e-assessment designer to infer or deduce if a learner has performed (or not) in the desired way. However, such an assessment strategy means excluding unanticipated learning and teaching in favour of e-assessment and research that encourage standardized practices. The role of prestigious journals such as The British Journal of Educational Research and Computers & Education seem to have reinforced and reenacted the pre-eminence of measurement and statistical methods in educational assessment at the expense of more qualitative approaches. This study argues for praxiography as an ethnographic methodology to better understanding the contingencies that go into enacting e-assessment.

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