SQA to pilot games-based assessment

10th September 2010 at 01:00
Exams body to test competence in vocational courses using online workplace simulations

Scotland's examinations body is introducing games-based assessment to vocational courses aimed at teenagers, The TESS can reveal.

Martyn Ware, the head of e-assessment and learning at the Scottish Qualifications Authority, said Skills for Work courses in health, retail, uniform and emergency services and energy were all set to benefit from 3D virtual environments which would allow candidates to enter a simulated workplace and perform tasks to demonstrate key competencies.

The national e-assessment conference heard of the new developments last week in Dundee, a city which has been hit by the collapse of one of the leading online games developers.

The new games-based assessments have been developed with funding from the European Social Fund and will be piloted in a small number of schools this year.

"We felt Skills for Work courses would be the most suitable place to do this, as these learners often need more support to become engaged," Mr Ware told The TESS. "This will also give them a bit more experience relevant to the world of work."

But development of e-assessment generally had been slower than expected, Mr Ware admitted.

A recent survey of colleges showed that they were being put off by the logistics of running e-assessment; confidence in e-tests; confidence in the robustness of systems; concerns about access, inclusion and equality; and lack of knowledge about how to write high-quality e-assessment.

An e-assessment sub-group has now been established with representatives from colleges, the inspectorate and the SQA, in the hope of overcoming these barriers. It would produce guidance on SQA policy and good practice, as well as carrying out development work with SQA's external verifiers.

Meanwhile, an expert on the use of ICT in education has warned that e- assessment could be a legal minefield. Jason Miles-Campbell told the Dundee conference that problems ranged from untested technology to data protection. He is legal service manager with the Joint Information Systems Committee, which works with colleges and universities to develop innovative uses of digital technologies.

Mr Miles-Campbell listed seven areas of concern:

- Personal information: Storing information about the identity of students and their performance could be a "touchy area". He cited the example of parliamentary education convener Karen Whitefield who, along with some North Lanarkshire heads, is being investigated after obtaining information about hundreds of pupils in order to send them letters wishing them well when they went to secondary school. "The main thing to remember is to be clear about the purpose for which the information is being collected and only to use it for that purpose," he said.

- Security: "Ensure there is appropriate security," he stated simply, adding a warning that results should not be released without consent from the learner.

- Copyright: "For the purposes of examinations, you can pretty much do what you like with other people's stuff," he said. However, a lot of e- assessment was formative and this rule applied only to summative assessment.

- Technology: Schools and colleges have a general duty of care to take precautions, and to use untested technology without having made provision for what happened if it did not work "would probably be negligent".

- Hackingcheating: Policies on misconduct in examinations should be updated to take account of the fact that not everyone is sitting exams in "cold, dusty gym halls", he said. He also pointed out that, under the Computer Misuse Act, it was a crime to have unauthorised access to a system. "Get the police involved if you think there has been a criminal offence committed," he advised. "You don't need to determine if there has been a crime: you only have to suspect it."

- Equality of access: Staff must be proactive in considering how their design of e-assessment allows people with disabilities to access it. "You don't have to ditch it because a learner with a disability can't get access, but you do have to consider how you provide the same learning experience by another means," he said.

- Objections: "Students have no right to object," he said. They did have the right to stop the "automatic processing of personal data" so that, if an algorithm was being used to determine a grade, a student could force the centre to work out his or her score separately.

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