Reflections on the use of novel and open assessment methods in higher education

December 10, 2018


Jonas Tana, RN., MA., researcher, Arcada UAS,
Mia Forss, RN., PhD, Head of department, Arcada UAS,
Thomas Hellstén, PT., Master of Health Care, lecturer, Arcada UAS,

More and more courses and degree programs are moving online. This raises new and interesting questions on how to maximize the effectiveness of online learning in new environments with new tools. An enhanced focus lies on pedagogical practises and effective use of digital tools that enable co-construction of knowledge through interaction, rather than on technology itself (Bailey et al 2015). With the recent rise of new, innovative and user-friendly digital solutions new possibilities for course and student assessment methods emerged (Bispo & Costa 2016). These technological changes present teachers with new opportunities and challenges, which are significant because of the fact that the present student cohorts are both used to these new technologies, their experimental use, and they prefer learning trough group activity and teamwork (Bispo & Costa 2016; Kemp et al 2011).

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These changing expectations and demands have led to an increased use of technology in education, including the use of e-learning platforms and different social media (Kemp et al 2011).  These can be effective in provoking reflective thought and provide a forum for collaborative learning, student knowledge creation and easier dissemination of student produced content for larger audiences, especially outside university walls (Fisher & Baird 2006; Kemp et al 2011). It has also been noted that students become more active in their responsibility for learning while teachers become more of facilitators or coordinators for the learning activities (Bailey et al 2015). This places an enhanced focus on the learning activities, assignments as well as assessments in courses, a topic that is and has always been of interest within higher education (Bailey et al 2015). As an underlying shift in emphasis, innovative assessment methods aim at assessment for learning, rather than assessment of learning (Price et al 2008). This also includes diversifying assessments, to fit different kinds of learning. Innovative assessment methods could be described as a term that encompass different techniques and methods, and is, for example, work relevant, uses technology valuably, and changes the nature of student engagement with the common goal to improve the quality of student learning (McDowell & Mowl 1996; Price et al 2008). This provides an opportunity to implement novel and innovative assessment methods to course structures, especially within the field of health and welfare, where today, much focus lies on the adoption and use of emerging digital technologies.

Within an undergraduate course in eHealth (15 ECTS) at Arcada, we, in accordance with these new opportunities, embraced what could be defined as novel and innovative student assessment methods. To frame up the structure for this and to be able to guide the development of a more engaging and student-centred approach, we adopted the seven general principles for powerful online learning environments developed by Johnson & Argon (2003). The seven principles aim to:

  1. address individual differences
  2. motivate the student
  3. avoid information overload
  4. create a real-life context
  5. encourage social interaction
  6. provide hands-on activities
  7. encourage student reflection

The course structure and construction not only aimed at addressing these seven principles, but also a high level of online engagement both within the participating student cohort, but also outside university walls. A study in 2015 (Bailey et al 2015) found, that students prefer assessments with innovative features over the more traditional assessments, like quizzes and papers. In accordance with this, and to both address individual differences and motivate the students, we used social media platforms for learning assessment that consisted of blog, vlog or audio posts. The platforms included different blogging platforms like Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress, LinkedIn posts, YouTube and SoundCloud.  We encouraged openness with all assignments and assessments, in accordance with encouraging social interactivity and open access principles. This way, the students co-created knowledge that they themselves shared both within the course participants but also outside university walls, open to all. The structure for the different post for the student was first to create a mind-set about eHealth by looking for example on video clips, read articles or listening to podcasts. After that the students got familiar with the different definitions, strategies and policies that govern eHealth. To create a real-life context and provide hands-on activities, as stated in the seven principles, the students then chose and critically examined one existing digital solution within health and welfare.  In the end of the first course we looked in to the future of eHealth. Even the more scientific group task, to write an article, was planned so that it could be shared outside the university walls. The student chose one client/customer/patient group and identified one challenge this group might experience as well as examine how digital health interventions could help this group. It ended up in a scientific blog post or an open access scientific paper (see Ahmed et al 2017; Hindsberg et al 2017; Pesonen et al 2017).

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These novel and innovative assessment methods are not an attempt to replace traditional pedagogies but to complement them and provide alternatives to address individual differences in a flexible manner. As teachers are in the business of promoting students learning, we need to take into account the modern tools available for creating assessments that best support learning and student engagement, as an engaged student will, supposedly, learn more (Bailey et al 2015). We also need to open up student assessment, to show the community outside the university walls what our students are capable of doing, and to teach the students new ways of influencing and communicating health and welfare within the public sphere.

The theme for this blog post was inspired by an Erasmus trip to Oslo.

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Ahmed, N., Blázquez Ferreiro, C., Kallenbach, C., Matikainen, D., Jimoh-Olundegun, M., Rognstadbråten, M. and Forss, M., 2017. Mind the gap-between developer and older end users of health technologies. Arcada Working Papers 10/2017

Bailey, S., Hendricks, S. and Applewhite, S., 2015. Student Perspectives of Assessment Strategies in Online Courses. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 13(3).

Bispo, M.D.S. and Costa, F.J.D., 2016. Papers as student assessment in graduate courses: educative tool or a sub-system of assembly line?. Cadernos EBAPE. BR, 14(4), pp.1001-1010.

Fisher, M. and Baird, D.E., 2006. Making mLearning work: Utilizing mobile technology for active exploration, collaboration, assessment, and reflection in higher education. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 35(1), pp.3-30.

Hindsberg, P., Idi, V., Abdirahmaan Jacob, T., Karki, A., Zaman, T. and Tana, J., 2017. The use of e-health applications in treating depression online. Arcada Working Papers 10/2017

Johnson, S.D. and Aragon, S.R., 2003. An instructional strategy framework for online learning environments. New directions for adult and continuing education, 2003(100), pp.31-43.

Kemp, J., Mellor, A., Kotter, R. and Oosthoek, J.W., 2012. Student-produced podcasts as an assessment tool: An example from geomorphology. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 36(1), pp.117-130.

McDowell, L., & Mowl, G. (1996). Innovative assessment-its impact on students. In Gibbs, G. (ed.) Improving student learning through assessment and evaluation, pp.131-147.

Pesonen, L., Otieno, L., Ezema, L., Benewaa Kusi, D. and Hellstén, T., 2017. Virtual Reality in rehabilitation: a user perspective. Arcada Working Papers 10/2017

Price, M., O’Donovan, B., Rust, C. and Carroll, J., 2008. Assessment standards: a manifesto for change. Brookes eJournal of Learning and Teaching, 2(3), pp.1-2