E-that comes too soon

1st September 2006 at 01:00
My somewhat cavalier use of the expression "toys for boys" when asked to comment on developments in e-assessment not only delivered a good headline; it also created the impression that I was dismissive of the efforts of those in the Scottish Qualifications Authority who are working hard to harness modern technology to the service of assessment (TESS, last week).

This is far from the truth, so perhaps you will allow me to put the record straight. As your report makes clear, e-assessment is a complex business with a number of major obstacles that have to be overcome if it is to offer a viable alternative to the red pen wielded by experienced markers.

However, as Martin Ware of the SQA explained, development work is beginning to expand the areas where e-assessment is viable, but there remain limits which it will not be easy or possible to breach in the foreseeable future.

Computers can be programmed to identify words, but they are not sentient beings and cannot as yet cope with understanding or analysing meaning, whilst irony is likely to be beyond e-understanding for a very long time.

My scorn was not directed at this development work but rather at those who fail to appreciate the complexities that have to be overcome, are in thrall to modern technology and claim that we are but a hop, skip and a jump away from all exams being sat and marked by machine.

We are nowhere close to such an outcome, nor to giving human examiners their marching orders; no one should bin their red pens for a while.

I apologise for any confusion that my extravagant use of language may have caused, but then I have not been pre-programmed always to give the right response.

Judith Gillespie


SQA qualifications committee

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