Assessing skills and exams in uncertain times, challenges and opportunities - Summary of the webinar

During the recent Covid-19 crisis, European Higher Education Institutions have had to rely on distant learning formats and have employed a range of different assessment methods which were not in use before. The manner in which skills can be assessed and exams undertaken has been one of the major challenges of the change experienced by both students and teachers. An online poll of the participants of the webinar taken at the beginning of the webinar confirmed that the biggest concern about evaluation in a distance learning format is the acquisition and assessment of skills and competences. 

During the webinar, three panelists shared their experiences and discussed the challenges and opportunities of online skill assessment:

  • Katerina Pramatari, Associate Professor at Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB), has initiated various activities encouraging youth entrepreneurship and has supported over 200 start ups. She co-founded Uni.Fund (a Greek VC that invests in start-ups and spin-offs in Greek universities, R&D and Tech Space) and ACEin (a University accelerator that has been awarded for bridging the corporate world with University start-ups).
  • István Vilmos Kovács is a HE expert with expertise in learning and teaching, innovation and entrepreneurship, and internationalisation. István has been an active member of the HEInnovate expert network. He is vice rector of the Budapest Metropolitan University of Applied Sciences, which has a special reputation for its innovation practices in education - called myBRAND. 
  • Bárbara Gabriel has a background in engineering, electronics and telecommunication. Since 1999, she has been teaching courses related to STEM, innovation and entrepreneurship in Higher Education Institutions. Barbara also coordinates an Erasmus+ European project grounded in HEInnovate. Barbara is affiliated to the University of Aveiro, where she is deputy Director of Internationalisation and Cooperation in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. 

Bárbara identified three steps that she believed proved fundamental to ensuring a smooth and effective transfer from offline to online teaching and assessment: 

  • A rapid legal validation of all online procedures concerning exams and postgraduate thesis defence sessions
  • Early support to teachers in the form of intensive training offering the best methodology for distance learning, tailoring methodologies according to discipline
  • A survey distributed to students so that they could give feedback and share their concerns and feelings

All three panelists were able to draw on their experiences in highlighting the benefits derived from online learning. Katerina gave reasons why levels of online learning and skills acquisition were higher than before Covid, summarised as follows:

  • Students had more time to prepare
  • Students engaged at a deeper level and invested more time in tasks set because these were about developing innovative business ideas  and were not based on rote learning
  • Students had to follow a reporting routine that involved three moments of contact with the teacher during the course. This was set up in order to keep a regular communication line open and to monitor student involvement and progress

Furthermore, Katerina added that cases of Plagiarism in online exams were reduced by presenting more exam questions based on critical thinking than on descriptions and factual knowledge.

István presented the dilemma faced when it came to organising online assessment: on the one hand there was the traditional knowledge validation model; on the other hand, there was the opportunity to incorporate assessment as a component of the teaching and learning process, through more frequent interactions between teacher and student. The adoption of the latter approach has had important repercussions on teaching and learning: from the students’ perspective, it resulted in enhanced sense of guidance of their learning and support of their progress; from the teachers’ perspective, it resulted in a greater insight into student preparation levels, which allowed the setting of exam questions to become a continuum with the activities implemented during the course.

This webinar was followed by over 60 participants who were very active in posing questions through the dedicated Q&A webinar channel. The questions reflected the challenges that students and educators had to face during the Covid-19 lockdown and revolved around plagiarism, student satisfaction, the impact of online teaching on teacher resources. 

Participants were split into small groups in which they considered the possibility of a blended learning format in the next academic year and discussed what could be kept from the current distance learning assessment methods and how to identify the opportunities to build on these to improve them. István explained that what works well is to provide a great variety of assignments to students: tests, self-assessments, peer evaluations, poster design exercises, photo reports, reflective portfolios, micro research and micro publication case competitions, presentations for peers, audio recordings, video reports.

The experiences brought together in this webinar show how the recent challenges faced by universities can be turned into opportunities to improve the quality of the educational offer by being more innovative and entrepreneurial, qualities that the labour market was already demanding before Covid. It was emphasized that this transformation requires a creative joint effort on the part of the universities, as opposed to each university acting on its own. Distant learning can also have a positive impact on social inequality as it has the potential to significantly widen access. It was noted, however, that for distance learning to work well, it is particularly important to show proximity to students.

The recording from the webinar can be watched here.

  • Webinar summary
  • Webinar presentation
Submitted by:
Zsuzsa Javorka
Submitted on:
15 Jul 2020
Related event date:
04 Jun 2020