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'And this is me feeding the pigs'

Pupils taking a GCSE in land-based science will have to submit an electronic portfolio and take on-screen exams. Warwick Mansell reports

Is this the future of exams? Pupils will be able to submit Power- Point presentations, sound recordings and video footage as evidence of their achievements in the first entirely electronic GCSE.

A new science exam, being taught from September, is to become a digital pioneer by blending on-screen assessment with project-based coursework in which teenagers will be able to tap the power of technology.

More than 100 secondaries are to offer environmental and land-based science, part of a new range of "21st-century science" exams from OCR, for which all the externally-assessed papers are taken on-screen.

The rest of the GCSE will be coursework submitted as an "electronic portfolio". Those behind the course say it has the power to be much more engaging than traditional coursework assignments, submitted on paper.

For the coursework, pupils will be required to submit evidence into a secure website of mastery of basic practical skills, such as "hoeing up potato banks", "planting young trees" and "bottle-feeding lambs".

They will also have to produce work experience and investigative project reports, based for example, on experimental work or field trials, such as whether or not to spray crops, and the effects of burning on moorland.

Pupils will be encouraged to submit PowerPoint presentations, photographs and digital audio and video evidence of their work, alongside text. This, the board believes, represents the future of assessment.

Patrick Craven, OCR's head of e-assessment, said: "Candidates are able to use a range of evidence to present what they have done. That is far more motivating and engaging, from the student's perspective, than traditional paper submissions."

Martin Wedgwood, an advanced skills rural and environmental education teacher at Thomas Alleyne's comprehensive, Uttoxeter, said: "This is going to be a big motivational tool."

The TES was shown examples of possible portfolio evidence, including photographs of pupils cleaning out pig sties and laying steps in a woodland.

Pupils will also gain half of their marks by taking three on-screen tests, encompassing computer-marked multiple-choice questions, data analysis and essay questions marked by examiners.

This course is the first GCSE in which computers are to be the medium for both external and internal assessment. From September OCR's two rival boards are offering mainstream science GCSEs in which the external assessment will be entirely computer-marked multiple-choice questions. But the coursework will be assessed through paper tests, marked by teachers.

A computerised national key stage 3 ICT test will also be statutory in 2008 (see right), and all three main boards are also offering people the chance to take key and basic skills on-screen.

Another major qualification which is being offered entirely electronically is Edexcel's diploma in digital applications, an ICT course worth up to four GCSEs.

Electronic portfolios are also expected to be a major part of the new specialised diplomas, being launched from 2008 and embracing a range of vocational courses at GCSE and A-level standard.

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