Assessments And Evaluation In Virtual Settings

Business schools must follow varied assessments to develop students' professional skills and employability.

Examinations and assessments are an important part of our academic programs in higher education and provide a seal of certification about a student's credentials pursuing future career options. Business schools and universities face the daunting task of conducting examinations in COVID times when the invigilated pen-and-paper exam is not possible to happen. All business schools and universities have explored a number of options. They have also started thinking about the assessment methods used in the process. However, some apprehensions are still there and it is suggested that in these times of COVID when we are all working from home, we need to think innovatively. While doing so, let our thinking and solutions do not get blurred by factors such as students will refer to resources on the internet or consult someone at home or seek external help.

We may also argue that the assessment through un-proctored online exams is also an opportunity for us and students to bridge the skill gap and professional gap. As we have seen that employers increasingly look for skills that include the ability to handle unstructured situations, show a bold face in times of uncertainty, make decisions with limited information, monitoring and evaluating one's cognitive processes, including personal, creative and emotional intelligence. The traditional exam system certainly does not address these faculties and may not be a good vehicle for assessing professional skills.

The 'skill gap' and 'professionalism gap' are serious challenges we face today. Our education system needs to play a pivotal role in filling it. The assessments and evaluations used by business schools can contribute significantly to filling this gap. It is always suggested that business schools must follow varied assessments to develop students' professional skills and employability. Just one type of physical pen-and-paper traditional exam system may not be the best way to assess a student's skills and professional understanding. This is because such exams do not get the opportunity to research and refer to sources of knowledge that demonstrates the student's skills to handle the complex and wicked problem at hand.

The traditional exam system also tends to promote a rote learning method, taking short- cuts, focusing on text-book kind of answers, not focusing on critical thinking aspects of learning. The traditional exam system ignores Bloom's taxonomy learning levels, focusing on higher-order thinking skills, promoting critical thinking, a research-based approach to problem-solving, and permitting time for reflection. Ensuring these learning levels are crucial to providing coverage of learning domains on cognitive, affective, and sensory dimensions. It is important that students also get skills that focus on application, evaluation, analysis and creating.

To achieve these objectives and certify that students have got the skills, and as an alternative to invigilated pen-and-paper exam, it is suggested that business schools must explore options of (a) open-book examination, (b) group-based examination, (c) take-home examination which would address the higher levels of the taxonomy of learning assessment. 

These exams may be the preferred choice of assessment method on higher taxonomy levels because they promote higher-order thinking skills, provide a research opportunity, provide learning opportunities and allow time for reflection.

Putting students in virtual examination situations to solve wicked problems in an unprotected manner nearly replicates the real-life situation in the business world. Therefore, business schools must appreciate that the un-proctored online examination provides us an opportunity to fill this professional gap. However, there are apprehensions of risk of unethical student behaviour on the part of students emanating from copying from internet resources, colluding with other students, and external help in completing the exam. These risks would be high for the exams which test on the lowest taxonomy level. It is argued that if the exam focuses on higher learning taxonomy levels and due care is taken to set the exam carefully.

In our management education, we must evaluate students beyond rote-learning. In our problem-solving and critical thinking approach, memorizing and repeating information is not adequate for making them leaders. The options suggested above for exams test intellectual abilities and skills. The above exams test a student's ability to find relevant information and understand, analyze, apply knowledge and think critically. And that should be our objective of the evaluation.

And it is possible to set such exams. While deliberating on the above, we must keep the following in mind. Our exam will not merely test the memory and set exam. We set exams so that we test a student's ability to find and use the information for problem-solving and deliver well-structured and well-presented arguments and solutions. The focus should be on knowledge application (which is the testing skill part of it). Open-book/Group/Take-home exam questions usually require the student to apply knowledge and they may involve problem-solving or delivering solutions. The style of the question depends on the subject/faculty setting the exam.

Some approaches we could follow are: (a) giving a case to read without exam questions. After two days, we can provide questions to answer within a time limit. The questions need to be such that even consultation/seeking help creates learning for the student, (b) we can set an exam where the student needs to do a lot of analysis from the web and put that analysis together, (c) we can also make an exam that is a group exam and apply and learn collaboration skills from remote. This experience itself will be a great learning skill that can be put to the test.

The main concerns for take-home exams may include academic misconduct (cheating/plagiarism/collusion), as discussed above. If the exam is set focusing on a higher learning level, reference to existing material or consultation should not matter. The exam should allow the student to refer to notes, texts, or resource materials while answering the questions. The way we set the exam should test students' ability to search and apply information and knowledge to a problem situation.

Academic administrators should not have any apprehensions. So the key would be developing a great exam and not get bogged down by the assumptions that students will consult with each other or cut and paste the material. Making research, referencing, consultation, analysis, creation an integral part of the assessments and ensure higher learning levels.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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