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Has the Coronavirus Accelerated the Future of Assessment?

Has the Coronavirus Accelerated the Future of Assessment?

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Times Higher Education (THE) published an article about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the assessment of learning in colleges and universities. Steve Masters, Education 4.0 Lead at Jisc (formerly the Joint Information Systems Committee), stated, “Universities’ first challenge was to get remote working up and running and get learning out there during this ‘triage’ period, but there’s a disconnect between what we need to do for students moving forward and what’s happening now.” Masters believes that as universities prepare for the possibility of teaching online in the fall, online assessment will need to be on the agenda.

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Masters. Ironically, universities like APUS that have operated largely online have had to become experts at learning assessment over the decades in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of online teaching and learning, which was heavily criticized by non-adopters in its early years.

Embracing assessment led us to implement tools and a framework like the Degree Qualifications Profile. When these tools and framework were implemented, they used the same assessments to evaluate courses and degree programs, regardless of the form of instruction.

THE writes that the data infrastructure universities have in place will play a key role in how quickly they shift to online education. Having a Learning Management System (LMS) is a good start, and my assumption is that most U.S. universities had learning management systems in place prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether they used them properly or not is a different story, however. In fact, an organized collection of all assessments is not possible unless an institution requires its faculty to utilize the LMS or its electronic equivalent as the repository for each course’s syllabus, assignments, quizzes, exams, papers, and other assessments. Masters refers to this stream of data as an “exhaust” where the output is captured to better predict outcomes and improve student retention.

During last spring’s migration of college and universities to online teaching, discussions varied about ways to deal with plagiarism. Institutions with robust online learning options appeared confident in their approaches, using options like Turnitin to detect plagiarism in writing and proctored exams.

Other institutions may have looked the other way or changed their grading from letter grades to pass/fail to avoid some of the pitfalls of totally ignoring assessment security. Masters notes that universities need to strike a balance between reducing workloads and ensuring assessment integrity. Artificial intelligence and approaches such as adaptive comparative judgement can help automate some elements of learning assessment.

As we move into the fall semester of 2020, I hope the academic leadership teams at many traditional universities will stand back and look at the opportunities available with the conversion of many courses to online education. In the U.S., universities with substantial online programs have led the way in the digitization of assessments and implementation of frameworks and tools to evaluate learning outcomes and to improve student retention.

With the educational business model disrupted for an unpredictable period of time, those institutions that can afford to should embrace the situation and implement a far more comprehensive, advanced assessment structure than it was possible to do before the coronavirus pandemic. That change will benefit the institution and the student, and a win-win is hard to find in these disruptive days.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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