Transforming assessment with digital exams: Experiences from the University of Bath, School of Management

Like other educational institutions operating under the extraordinary constraints of COVID-19, many business schools are in the process of transforming their assessment to allow students to take their exams securely from home. Some universities have experimented with remote proctoring add-ons to their LMS/VLE since the pandemic has started, but others have explored using specialised end-to-end assessment platforms as a longer-term digital exam solution. In this article, we will outline the case study of getting started with e-assessment by undertaking a well-planned pilot project, featuring the University of Bath, School of Management.

The University of Bath is among the pioneers in digital assessment practice in UK Higher Education. They began collaborating with us by using the Inspera online assessment platform in December 2017, as a trial at the School of Management and was then followed by a one-year digital assessment pilot in 2019. The first trial involved 70 masters students and took the form of an essay-based formative exam, with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) mode of delivery. Dr Donald Lancaster, Teaching Fellow in Marketing and Director of Studies for Executive MBA at Bath University’s School of Management, was the course leader of the exam: “From an academic’s perspective, my marking was much quicker with digital exams, so I was satisfied. Talking to the students afterwards to get informal feedback, they reported great satisfaction”. Following the success of that first trial, the collaboration between the University of Bath and Inspera continued. The main motivation for the project was to investigate whether e-examinations would bring any of the below key benefits for students, academics and the administration.

Benefits for Students:

  • Aligning exam conditions with the everyday conditions students encounter in the classroom (e.g. submitting coursework in the VLE, taking notes) and later in the workplace;
  • Greater accessibility for students with learning support needs

Benefits for Academics:

  • Increasing marking efficiency;
  • Improving the fairness of the assessment by removing the bias caused by the students’ illegible handwriting.

Benefits for Administration:

  • More time-efficient operations;
  • More cost-effective operations.

Both summative assessments and formative assessments were conducted in this trial. The question types used included multiple-choice, multiple-response, drag-n-drop, missing words, click select, graphic gap match, graphic text entry, and text area. The exams were conducted without incidents, and “overall, it was a very positive experience”, reports Dr Lancaster. Rowan Cranwell, Solutions and Project Manager, agrees and adds: “The majority of students with special needs and learning disabilities said they much preferred digital exams to pen and paper". Even though there was no formal evaluation of the student experience, they believe that the targeted benefits were felt among all of the relevant stakeholders, and hence, learning objectives of the pilot were achieved.

Stakeholders at the University of Bath are satisfied with the outcomes of the pilot project, as it has confirmed the value of digital examinations, and met the key objectives in the form of numerous insights that emerged from the hands-on experience. As Dr Lancaster reflects: “Philosophically, everybody appreciates that this is the way the world is going and that there are many advantages of the system: in security, in authoring, in lower paper and production costs or costs to the environment, and with very few disadvantages. We recognised the potential from the beginning, but actually going through the motions ourselves gives us a clearer idea of what is needed going forward. Now we must take stock of what we’ve got, what we need to do, and how to best position ourselves if we want this to work on a larger scale. Eventually, digital exams will become the norm. I think it will happen; the only question is when.”

By Dr Anja Sisarica, Strategic Relations Manager, Inspera Assessment


Learn more about e-assessment at business schools:

  • Join our talk at LTSE 2020 - on 15th September, 10.10 BST, “Digital assessment at business schools”, you will have an opportunity to discuss your questions and hear from Dr Lancaster directly.
  • Watch our Digital Examination Forum 2020 webinar series. The collaboration with Inspera continued also in regards to academic community engagement. After a successful live conference in Bath in 2019, we have together organised a webinar series on the topic “Achieving teaching and learning excellence with e-assessment”, with over 1000 participants and expert speakers from 10 universities from the UK and abroad.
  • Read our Chartered ABS blog about the case study with Kozminski University Business School we presented at LTSE 2019.
  • A pilot project is often a valuable way to explore and prove the benefits of digital assessment at low risk and cost. Get in touch with one of our education consultants if you want to learn more.