Nearly overnight, COVID-19 upended traditional classroom instruction. Colleges and universities immediately faced challenges in finding a balance between offering a safe learning environment and delivering quality instruction. As a result, schools scrambled to accelerate the adoption of technologies to assist with remote learning capabilities. As higher education continues to face ongoing uncertainty about a safe return to classroom instruction, students say they’re learning less now than before the pandemic; supported by the fact that undergraduate enrollment fell nearly 6 percent in Spring 2021.
In addition, students’ expectations have changed perhaps permanently, forcing schools to continue adapting and adopting alternatives to classroom learning. Schools need solutions that boost their ability to deliver effective instruction both in and outside the classroom while improving student outcomes. By finding sustainable solutions today, higher education institutions hope to find an equilibrium that will get them back on a solid footing and position them, and their students, for future success.
To a large degree, schools have located and applied many pieces to this puzzle. The question remains, how will they find the missing pieces?
Schools have (already) made sizable investments in online learning
Colleges and universities have adopted new methods and technologies to deliver online education effectively for the long haul. For example, hybrid learning is nearly ubiquitous across college campuses, where students can attend classes in person, virtually, or in a combination that suits their schedules and situations.
A newer, more flexible model called HyFlex learning is a student-centered approach that integrates in-class learning with both synchronous video sessions and asynchronous content delivery. HyFlex gives students the flexibility to attend class in-person or virtually, changing as needed on a day-to-day basis.
To enable hybrid and HyFlex learning, schools have invested heavily in technology infrastructure such as network upgrades to accommodate the sudden influx of streaming video. These upgrades allow schools to adopt Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other video conferencing platforms at scale to enable more (and sometimes all) students to attend classes virtually. Many institutions have upgraded their document management systems to handle the increasing volume of and demand for downloadable content. In addition, educators are now going beyond just digital textbooks by using new software to create and deliver coursework and lesson content in engaging formats, including video, audio, animation, and even gamified content.
The missing piece: Digital assessment that supports today’s learning models
Perhaps a silver lining of the pandemic —at least for higher learning — appears to be that such technology can improve the effectiveness of a college education and, in the process, both improve outcomes for students and reduce attrition. Both students and educators agree. A recent survey of students and instructors shows that 68 percent of students want hybrid courses, with the same percentage stating an interest in using more technology for in-class instruction. And 58 percent of faculty say they’re more optimistic about online learning now that they’ve had some experience with those technologies.
However, for many, there’s often a missing piece to the puzzle of hybrid/HyFlex learning. Once we’ve delivered the instruction and courseware in flexible, engaging ways, how do we effectively assess whether our students — moving back and forth between the classroom and remote and between synchronous and asynchronous delivery models — are learning and retaining that knowledge? What’s required is a modernized method for testing and assessment that supports hybrid, HyFlex, and classroom models in a way that accurately captures student progress.
It’s not surprising that the marketplace has responded with digital assessment tools designed to work securely in-person and online. The beauty of digital assessment, however, goes beyond simply delivering and scoring “tests.” It is the wealth of data it captures on each student. With this data, educators can tailor and personalize feedback and learning plans for each student and make informed decisions on improving the instruction itself.
How digital assessment helps promote and improve sustainable learning models
How can digital assessment help educators improve their content, deliver it in multiple learning environments, and help students focus on where it will have the most impact?
Build successful programs – Lectures, class discussions, and other aspects of in-person instruction are easy to replicate online, but assessing mastery isn’t easy without a purpose-built tool. A digital assessment tool can also provide data, analytics, and insights essential for constantly adapting educational programs to students’ changing responses and needs.
Promote equity in learning — To ensure equal access to education, digital assessment data can demonstrate that students in historically marginalized, disadvantaged, and underserved groups benefit from hybrid and HyFlex learning.
Focus on problem areas – Performance data from digital assessments helps educators identify problem areas for each student, allowing them to remediate instruction and help students focus on specific topics where they need the most improvement.
Facilitate continuous improvement – When implemented across all courses and programs, digital assessment can reveal large-scale performance trends and identify areas for improving the curricula and course materials, whether the model is a classroom, hybrid, HyFlex, or fully remote.
Improve student outcomes and reduce attrition with assessment data
Hybrid and HyFlex learning have created enormous opportunities for higher education to provide the flexibility and choice students want and often need. By fitting the often-missing piece to the puzzle — digital assessment — educators can view performance trends for student progress across multiple courses, giving them a powerful tool to determine if, when, and where to adjust for future classes.
Digital assessment can also help colleges and universities promote a culture of continuous improvement by regularly gathering and analyzing assessment data to improve instruction, curricula, and individual learning. Finally, digital assessment can help schools demonstrate academic compliance and support accreditation reviews.
Higher education has made considerable strides in making a college education more accessible while maintaining quality. By adding digital assessment to the mix of technology and tools that enable hybrid and HyFlex learning, colleges and universities can leverage the power of data to improve student outcomes, reduce attrition, and boost enrollment.
Kevin Stringfellow, Associate Director of Client Solutions at ExamSoft, with has over 10 years of combined experience in higher education and EdTech incorporating the use of assessment technologies for learning. His experience includes supporting assessments and their processes as the Program Manager for Evaluation and Assessment at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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