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Closing the digital skills gap, one assessment at a time

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Duncan Andison)

There’s a digital skills shortage disaster approaching and we need to get to the root of the problem in order to combat it sooner rather than later. 

After all, it’s concerning to see that there’s been a 40 per cent drop in the number students studying IT courses since 2015. And something else that’s creating additional pressure as we emerge from the pandemic, is the rate of change in how businesses and industries now function.

With over three-quarters of employers stating that their profitability would drop with a workforce lacking in digital capabilities, there should be a real and urgent cause for concern. 

We must act now and make permanent alterations to the education system, so tomorrow’s generation are able to cope with the demand for digital skills. Teachers and educational institutions have had an extremely difficult year, during which they have shown great resilience, adaptability, and dedication. We now have a golden opportunity to build on the momentum of this astonishing pace of change work and ensure the next generation are prepared for life in the working world of the future.

Many industries have made significant changes to how they function, but the UK Government is still to determine the future of the education sector. What should be driving the discussion? We need government officials to focus on how we give the younger generation a passion for learning and the means to thrive, socially and economically, post-education.

Digital assessments have several standout benefits 

With the pandemic changing the way we all live and work, innovation across many industries is happening at a greatly accelerated rate. The same also can be said for the assessment space. Various institutions are using a range of alternatives to handwritten exams and are using digital invigilators to ensure standards are maintained irrespective of where and where an assessment is taken.

But some of this is not a new development – digital assessments have, for some time now, been commonly used in a number of sectors. To assess students, IELTS Language Tests and some Chartered Accountancy Certifications use both on-screen exams and digital tools. Many are using assessment processes that are intently aligned with the same digital processes used businesses. And there are numerous benefits to this. 

Firstly, with adaptive tests being used more frequently, the overall exam experience is becoming increasingly individualized. The result is a much shorter assessment without affecting the quality and accuracy of a test – why? Using artificial intelligence (AI) and other techniques that adjust to a pupil’s previous answer, digital assessments evaluate a student’s knowledge and capabilities in a highly efficient method. A prime example is the globally recognized Oxford Test of English, which has been designed from the ground up to be digital and fully adaptive.

Secondly, the need to travel to a specific exam destination on a specific day is eradicated, which in countries with a less established transport ecosystem, is a legitimate problem. For other scenarios that could jeopardize a student being able to sit an exam, such as snow day or when isolating with Covid-19, the assessment can still go ahead as planned. Effectively, exams become an on-demand service, creating test-taking flexibility for students that allows an exam to be sat in a destination and a time of their choice.

There has also been an upsurge in the use of digital tools being used to provide “checkpoint” assessments. The benefit of utilizing such assessment is that students can get a feel for when they might be ready to sit their final assessment. This provides students and teachers alike with valuable insights that give clear oversight on a student’s current knowledge and in turn, raises confidence before a final examination. In some cases, students have even saved time and money by not entering an exam before that individual possesses the knowledge or capabilities to do so successfully.

Students yearn for assessments that test real-world skills

When comparing the education industry to others, the reaction to implementing and embedding the latest innovation has been historically slow. Now more than ever, given how vitally important digital skills are to the workforce and the UK’s current digital capabilities, the younger generation needs to be comfortable using the technology that will serve them post-education. 

Digital assessment can play a significant role in ensuring students develop proficient digital skills and should therefore, be widely adopted across both schools and colleges across the country to modernize education. Students yearn to be tested on skills that benefit them in frequently used real-world skills and digital assessment practices, provide the perfect platform to authentically test and engage “on-the-job” skills.

It goes without saying that the foundational work is done when pupils start and proceed through lower education and then mature as students progress up the educational ladder. But often ignored, surprisingly given its benefits if used efficiently, is the role technology plays in teaching. By reducing the time spent on administrative duties and therefore increasing teachers free time, technology can enhance the relationship between teachers and pupils. 

However, the reality is that teachers aren’t sure of how to use the technology available effectively and in many cases, the tech presents more challenges than solutions. Like students, there are real benefits for teachers using digital assessments. For example, teachers are provided a full appraisal of each student’s strengths and weaknesses, always with the aim of improving the overall education experience for each individual student. Teachers can also have back the multiple hours spent manually marking papers as digital assessments can eliminate this duty, giving teachers more time to do what they do best, teach.

We must build on the foundation made 

Countless industries and organizations have been forced to make serious alterations to the way they operate. Many employees would argue the changes made have improved life at work and the education industry should be no different. Decision-makers must have full confidence in removing the “traditional approaches” that no longer deliver students the best education there is to offer. Amid a global pandemic, teachers have flipped the delivery model and still delivered a high-quality educational experience regardless of a student’s physical location. Now we must build on the foundations developed over this period and ensure the next generation is prepared for the challenges faced in the working world. There has never been a better opportunity than now, to make real and lasting change. 

Peter Collison, Head of Formative Assessment, RM (opens in new tab)

Peter Collison

Peter Collison, Head of Formative Assessment, RM.