Does online learning and assessment help sustainability?

John Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman

Encouraged by public interest and increasing statutory controls, most large organizations care about and report on environmental sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions. I’ve been wondering how much online assessments and the wider use of e-learning help sustainability. Does taking assessments and learning online contribute to the planet’s well-being?

Does using computers instead of paper save trees?Picture of trees, part cut down

It’s easy to see that by taking exams on computer, we save a lot of paper. Trees vary in size, but it seems the average tree might make about 50,000 pages of paper. If a typical paper test uses 10 pages of paper, then an organization that delivers 100,000 tests per year is using 20 trees a year. Or suppose a piece of learning material is 100 pages is distributed to 10,000 learners. The 20 trees cut down for that learning would be saved if the learning were delivered online.

These are useful benefits, but they need to be set against the environmental costs of the computers and electricity used. The environmental benefit is probably modest.

What about the benefits of reduced business travel?

A much stronger environmental case might be made around reduced travel. Taking a test on paper and/or in a test center likely means travelling. So we’re not surprised to be seeing increased use of online proctoring. For example, SAP are starting to use it for their certification exams. Online proctoring means that a candidate doesn’t have to travel to a test center but can take an exam from their home or office. This saves time and money. It also eliminates the environmental costs of  travel. Learning online rather than going to a classroom does the same.

Training and assessment are only a small reason for business travel, but the overall environmental impact of business travel is imagehuge.  One large services company has reported that 67 percent of their carbon footprint in 2014 was related to it. Another  indicates that cost at over 30 percent.. Many large companies have internal targets to reduce business travel greenhouse gas emissions.

In the academic world, the Open University in the UK performed a study a few years back on the carbon benefits of their model of distance learning compared with more conventional university education. The study suggested that carbon emissions were 85 percent lower with distance education compared with a more conventional university approach. However, the benefit of electronic delivery rather than paper delivery in distance learning was more modest at 12 percent, partly because students often print the e-learning materials. This suggests that there is a very substantial benefit in distance learning and a smaller benefit in it being electronic rather than paper-based.

The strongest benefit of online assessment is that it  gives accurate information about people’s knowledge, skills and abilities to help organizations make good decisions. But it does seem that there may well also be a useful environmental benefit too.

Assessment Security: 5 Tips from Napa

John Kleeman Headshot

Posted by John Kleeman

Assessment security has been an important topic at Questionmark, and that was echoed at the Questionmark Users Conference in Napa last week. Here is some advice I heard from attendees:

  •  Tip 1: It’s common to include an agreement page at the start of the assessment, where the participant agrees to follow the assessment rules, to keep exam content confidential and not to cheat. This discourages cheating by reducing people’s ability to rationalize that it’s okay to do so and also removes the potential for someone to claim they didn’t know the rules.
  • Tip 2: It’s a good idea to have a formal agreement with SMEs in your organization who author or review questions to remind them not to pass the questions to others. If they are employees, you should involve your HR and legal departments in drafting the agreements or notices. That way if someone leaks content, you have HR and legal on board to deal with the disciplinary consequences.Data gathering, screening, unproctored assessments, proctored assessments
  • Tip 3: It’s prudent to use the capabilities of Questionmark software to restrict access to the item bank by topic. Only give  authors access to the parts they are working on, to avoid inadvertent or deliberate content leakage.
  • Tip 4: There is increasing interest and practical application of hybrid testing strategies for proctored and unprotected tests to allow you to focus anti-cheating resources on risk. For example, you might screen participants with quizzes, then give un-proctored tests and give those who pass a proctored test.  Or you might deliver a series of short exams, at periodic intervals to make it harder for people to get proxy test takers to impersonate them. There is also a lot of interest in online proctoring, where people can take exams at home or in the office, and be proctored by a remote proctor using video monitoring.  This reduces travel time and is often more secure than face-to-face proctoring.
  • Tip 5: If your assessment system is on premise (behind the firewall), check regularly with your IT department that they are providing the security you need and that they are backing up your data. Most internal IT departments are hugely competent, but there is a risk as people change jobs over time that your IT department might lose touch with what the assessment application is used for. One user shared how their IT system failed to make backups of the Questionmark database, so when the server failed, they lost their data and had to restart from scratch. I’m sure this particular issue won’t happen for others, but IT teams have a wide set of priorities, so it’s good to check in with them.

There was lots more at the conference – iPads becoming mainstream for authoring and administration as well as delivery, people using OData to get access to Questionmark data, Questionmark being used to test the knowledge of soccer referees and some good thinking on balancing questions at higher cognitive levels.

One thing that particularly interested me was anecdotal evidence that having an internal employee certification program reduces employee attrition. Employees are less likely to leave your organization if you have an assessment and certification program. Certification makes employees feel more valued and more satisfied and so less likely to leave for a new job elsewhere. A couple of attendees shared that their internal statistics showed this.

This mirrors external research I’ve seen – for example the Aberdeen Group have published research which suggests that best-in-class organizations use assessments around twice as often as laggard organizations, and that first-year retention for best-of-class organizations is around 89% vs 76% for laggards.

For more information on security,  download the white paper: Delivering Assessments Safely and Securely.

 

Case Study: Live monitoring offers security for online tests

Headshot JuliePosted by Julie Delazyn

Thomas Edison State College (TESC) is one of the oldest schools in the country designed specifically for adults. The college’s 20,000+ students, many of them involved with careers and families, live all over the world and favor courses that enable online study.

In setting up online midterm and final exams, the college wanted to give distance leaners the same kind of security as on-campus students experience at more traditional institutions. At the same time, it was essential to give students some control over where and when they take tests.

Online proctoring offered a way to achieve both of these goals.

Working with Questionmark and ProctorU has enabled TESC to administer proctored exams to students at their home or work computers.

Proctors connect with test takers via webcam and audio hook-ups, verify the each test-taker’s identity, initiate the authentication process, ensure the students are not using any unauthorized materials or aids and troubleshoot technical problems. The college can now run secure tests while meeting the needs of busy students for flexible access to exams.

You can read the full case study here.