Nope, not a reference to the current economic climate and all the woes that brings but, instead, some thoughts on e-assessment and how this technology could potentially aid us in these troubled times.
At South Essex College we've been using TOIA (Technologies for Online Interoperable Assessment) for a number of years. The system allows tutors with the aid of our support to set up online exams, quizzes and assessments which self-mark and store results and reports in a number of formats for later digestion. Initially funded by JISC, TOIA is, unfortunately, no longer supported but has proved to be an invaluable tool in delivering curriculum outcomes, assessing learner progress, saving tutor time and helping shape and define the very nature of e-learning and online curriculum delivery within the College. Indeed, in a world where definitions of e-learning are at best hazy and understanding of the concepts limited, online assessment has proved to be the star of the show. It's easy, for example, to demonstrate and justify why going 'online' is more advantageous than using traditional pen and paper and it can clearly open up the curriculum to blended learning solutions.
This year we've been using TOIA to run online assessments for Bricklaying and Carpentry courses and so far we've set up and run over 40 separate assessments for 11 groups of learners. The results for each assessment are sent off to the examining body in order to evidence the learner's progress and count towards their final grades. It's clear that this would have been a logistical nightmare to organise using printed question sheets, pens, exam halls and invigilators, not to mention the huge amount of marking involved for the tutors.
Unfortunately, TOIA is past its prime now. Browser updates have rendered some of its features impotent, the clanky database back-end occasionally throws a 'hissy fit' and the process of setting up assessments can be lengthy, complicated and laborious...BUT...it is still an essential and well loved tool. Ideally we'd like to replace it with something 'shiny and new' but alternatives which offer the same set of powerful features are prohibitively expensive especially in these days of budget shrinking, cost saving and cut backs. The irony is, tools such as TOIA can save both time and money. Tutor time is liberated from hours of marking, courses can be delivered off-site reducing 'on' costs and tutor costs, class sizes are no longer dependant on room size or tutor availability, learners can complete a course at times which suit them etc etc...the benefits are many and clear.
So JISC, any chance of a TOIA resurrection? The timing couldn't be any better.