The HELTASA Digital Teaching and Learning Team hosted their third and final Digital Dialogue for 2022 on 28 September entitled “How does a digital world pose opportunities and challenges around assessment and academic integrity?”. Read the key takeaways from the first and second Digital Dialogues. Attracting sixty-six participants, the session participants discussed some of the current digital assessment practices across South African higher education institutions. Participants of this dialogue were encouraged to reflect on their own questions about matters relating to the quality and integrity of digital assessments, as well as some of the associated institutional practices, policies and challenges.

The session opened with an activity where participants were requested to reflect on their concerns related to academic assessment and integrity at their institution, what challenges they may have experienced regarding assessment in the academic space in 2021/2022, and what opportunities may exist regarding assessment in the digital space. The key discussions related to:

The Integrity of Digital Assessments: One of the main concerns raised around the integrity of digital assessments was related to copying and plagiarism. However, this is not a new concern as similar challenges were raised pre-COVID, but this concern has intensified with the expansion of essay mills and collusion.

Challenges with Digital Assessments: Amongst some of the challenges raised were related to poor internet connectivity of students taking digital assessments, workloads for assessors, feedback practices and the design and implementation of authentic digital assessment activities that are well aligned with outcomes and activities, and not just transferring face-to-face assessments online.

Opportunities for Digital Assessments: The opportunities presented linked to the considerations of auto-grading options as well as the adoption of alternative or more creative modes of assessment such as audio or video submissions and competency-driven assessments.

Quality and Assessment

The invited guest speaker, Dr Cheng-Wen Huang, a Senior Lecturer in Academic Staff Development at the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at the University of Cape Town, spoke about quality and assessment. Her presentation highlighted that assessments have shifted from being seen as instruments to measure behaviour, to what is now seen by academics as a social interpretative practice. During the COVID-19 pandemic where there was a rapid move towards emergency remote teaching and learning, assessment practices suffered from integrity issues as many academics migrated existing assessments onto online platforms, instead of transforming them. She highlighted that in cases where assessment practices included some level of redesign (transformation), these were more likely to be retained in post-COVID conditions, whereas those that were simply migrated had to build strategies to mitigate against cheating and collusion.

Changes in Assessment Policies

The two discussants in the dialogue session, Elzette le Roux from Stellenbosch University and Dr Carin Stoltz-Urban from Inscape, offered their insights into the changes in assessment policies at their institutions. Stellenbosch University’s purpose of revising the assessment policy was to offer a flexible assessment framework that could be used across various departments. Some of the drivers for change were learning centredness, relevance and alignment with the vision of the institution. Inscape have moved to greater self-assessment that considers the person, process and product. They have moved from the requirement of physical artefacts to the submission of digital images of created artefacts. In addition, presentations can be done physically or online using pre-recorded presentations.

Drivers for Change

The dialogue highlighted many drivers for change, one of them being the changing ecosystem within teaching and learning in higher education which has had an impact on assessments. This has necessitated some institutions to revise their assessment policies in a manner that allows for flexibility in the approach to assessments in general.  Cheng-Wen’s presentation highlighted the need to develop new assessment practices and policies to align with the current and future teaching and learning context. Some institutions have already taken the changing contexts into account and started updating their assessment policies which align to digital assessment opportunities.

The HELTASA Digital Learning and Teaching Project Team will be building on discussions arising in the three Digital Dialogues held this year at HELTASAFEST22 5-9 December 2022. Join us there!