For the longest time in history, the way students were assessed on their work hasn’t changed. For the most part there has whether been a long exam or some sort of coursework or practical exercise. In recent years however, there has been a lot of work done in the field of studying the way we evaluate how much someone has learned. One such research was conducted to see the relationship that occurs between the way people receive their feedback and how that affects the way they learn (Whitelock and Watt, 2008). This research suggests that putting more emphasis on self-assessment creates a positive feedback loop that allows students to identify their mistakes and rectify them more effectively then being told by the tutor about what went wrong.

This research is particularly interesting when considering the transition to a more digital way of learning. As students who use digital environments to study, often have less communication with the teacher (even though they can still contact them using emails and discussion forums often found on online learning websites especially found in university web-pages) the hardest part of education falls on to the student which is to correct his own mistakes. The study conducted by (Whitelock and Watt, 2008) suggests that to achieve a more effective learning, a student should be very self-reflective and be given the tools to be able to do so. Many of the higher education learning websites therefore include a brief that allows the student to see the criteria that they will be marked on therefore allowing them to prepare better or reflect on their work. Such tools are very important to the student as it allows him to understand what is required and how to achieve the level they want to be at.

(Bennett, 2002) argues that as digital technology advances, and more and more people start using it to educate themselves then online assessment becomes ‘inevitable’. The question then becomes what shape should online assessment take. It might be unreasonable top expect online students that have undergone a different way of studying to then perform the same assessment that more traditionally educated students do. Not only it might be unreasonable, it might also not reflect the abilities of the online student as they might built a slightly different way of approaching subjects and it is important to keep in mind the primary point of assessment which is to tease out what the student has learned and on what level they are during their academic development.

The biggest concern when designing a way to access students online is how does the lecturer or teacher ensure that it was the students themselves who performed the task. If there is an online essay submission or an online test, it is hard to verify who completed it. One might ask “well what does it matter if someone does a test or two for a student, if they don’t have the skills they will fail in their job anyway.” This is to some extent true, the lack of the ability to apply the skills taught then the student might fail in their future occupation. The problem however arises when someone gets a qualification by cheating and making other do their work without the university noticing. Such qualification can then be used as a way to get a job they are not qualified to do and this might end up hurting someone financially emotionally (unqualified psychologist or counselor) or physically. It is then obvious that if online education is supposed to be taken as a serious alternative to traditional way of studying the assessments need to have a form that is recognizably not faked perhaps by having a camera on while doing the test or another similar solution.

As more and more online courses are created, it becomes apparent that there are some skill sets that online and traditional education doesn’t increase equally. For example a student studying online, might get a higher understanding of certain concepts or the use of digital technology then a student making most of their notes on a paper in class. But in the same way the student educated in a class room who perhaps does live presentations and interacts in the classroom might perform better in social situations such as presenting in front of many people. This difference that is being seen more and more as the online students and traditional students come out of their courses with different sets of skills. The question becomes, should we treat these two forms of education as one and the same. The future employer doesn’t necessarily know about the way the applicants have been taught but it might be a relevant piece of information. One of the solutions proposed is to make online courses get a diploma from the same course but indicate that it is via “E-learning”.

The problem with this way of separating students that arrive at their diploma in different ways is that if people get a sense that one way of studying is easier or harder, then it might devalue the alternative. This would have a negative effect as further generations would be pushed into the choice that is seen as more elite. For example if the social stigma suggested that online education is superior to traditional. It might force people who would otherwise prefer to study in face-to- face environment to now seek online education that they might not get as much out of solely because they want to be seen as having the “better education”.

The evidence seems to suggest that there is a need for a different sort of assessment for students studying online. Not only to compliment the difference in their abilities and to see the full potential of what they can do but also to reduce any cheating that might possibly happen. There is a plethora of ways to address these issues however, there should be an universal set of rules that govern the way online studying is assessed so that all the results can be seen as viable.

Reference List:

Bennett, R. E. (2002) ‘Inexorable and Inevitable: The Continuing Story of Technology and Assessment’. Journal of Technology, Learning and Assessment, 1 (1). Online journal article retrieved from

Whitelock, D. and Watt, S. (2008) ‘Reframing e-assessment: adopting new media and adapting old frameworks’. Learning, Media and Technology, 33 (3), pp. 151-154.