Jo-ann Larkins

ACSME Panel: What is the future of assessment?


Dr Jo-ann Larkins

Federation University

We were the lucky ones in hindsight because we had a head start on this online teaching thing. When the pandemic hit hard with extended lockdowns in Victoria in mid-2020, the majority of our courses at Federation University were already offered remotely online. My campus in Gippsland has a history of more than 60 years of distance learning supplemented with short, two to three-day residential schools as needed for laboratory-based courses, and we quickly moved our whole student body to this mode. Instead of a pivot to emergency online remote teaching, we instead turned our combined academic effort in Semester one 2020 to re-imagining online exams and, much more broadly, end of semester assessment practices. Being small enough to be agile gave us the ability to be somewhat proactive rather than simply reactive.

Ours is a story of a surprisingly productive collaboration between academic staff, learning and teaching and discipline leadership within the schools and university, instructional designers and tech support staff to create end of semester assessments that were as fit for purpose as we could make them in such a short time frame. Given the diversity and geographic spread of our student cohort (including internationally in different time zones), we quickly decided remote proctoring had too many issues to be viable (functional bandwidth of student internet connections being the biggest, closely followed by student access to appropriate webcam technology). The declared collective position was that if online timed exams were the preferred end of semester assessment, they were to be open book and open web. Our accrediting bodies were surprisingly OK with this.

It wasn’t easy. We had some hard pedagogical conversations in a short period of time. Our school learning designers worked 16-hour days: upskilling academics, providing guidance to our discipline leaders, organising and delivering just in time training and support material on topics such as the intricacies and possibilities of Moodle quizzes and how to rethink questioning beyond traditional multiple choice in an open book, open web environment. “It was just insane and surrealistic. I sat at my desk for days at a time and didn’t leave the house” (Learning Designer, Maths, IT and Engineering).