Breathing New Life Into Written Assessments

Questions for consideration

  • How has technology changed the development, implementation, and administration of written assessments?
  • How does technology and the online environment increase the effectiveness and validity of the written assessment format?
  • What role should written assessments play in the online environment?

Instructor Perspective

The course text highlights both the advantages and disadvantages of utilizing technology with written assessment. For instance, the ability of a computer to auto-score assessments, provide automatic immediate feedback on those assessments, and to update the grade-book all in one fell swoop is certainly to the instructor’s advantage. Another advantage technology has offered the instructor is opportunity to enhance assessments with multi-media (i.e., sound, video, images, and text). Technology also offers the instructor diagnostic feedback regarding student scores grouped and categorized in a variety of different formats thus allowing the instructor to determine patterns of difficulties either in the test material or learners’ understanding of same. Learning Systems such as Blackboard offer additional services as well, such as material management and learner communication options.


On the other hand, rarely does anything come without a price. In the instance of technology, this is most certainly true. Although computers can presumably save the instructor time in scoring of assessments, especially large numbers of assessments, there is a considerable time investment in the design of the assessment for online administration. Added to the initial complexities of designing effective assessments (whether online or pencil-or-paper) are additional issues of security protocols, design protocols, and assessment / technology limitations. As just one example, Walden recently switched over to Blackboard as our learning system. The upside is I can now post from my iPad. The downside is that despite the options to format and enhance the text within the discussion forums, it is far more tricky to achieve an aesthetically pleasing post via copy and paste techniques. Rather, I have discovered it is easier to paste my post as plain text and add the html coding I have saved into a template. My posts are still not perfect, but they look far more appropriate than previously. The instructor faces these types of issues as well, perhaps with more importance. Dr. VanErp is well aware of the new learning system issues and overlooks our formatting issues; however, a learner taking an improperly formatted assessment could easily become confused, resulting in difficulties for both the learner and the instructor. Thus, a disadvantage would be that the instructor likely needs to take extra time to become proficient with the learning system or assessment system of choice prior to administering the test. In fact, it would behoove the instructor to have a practice session prior to using a test in a real-life situation.

Student Perspective

As a student there are also many advantages and disadvantageous to online assessments. The best advantages, to my mind, are the instantaneous scoring, feedback and grade updating (assuming there are no errors in any of these services). Additionally, the learner benefits from the possibility of multi-media assessments. The learner also benefits, albeit indirectly, from the instructor’s ability to receive diagnostic assessment information quickly and efficiently. This benefits the learner in that the instructor may be able to determine whether certain questions and/or portions of the assessment are faulty (unreliable or invalid).


There are also disadvantages. It is more difficult for the learner to skip questions with a tick mark to review for later response unless the instructor has designed the assessment with this option in mind. There may also be time limits or network/connectivity difficulties. Certainly, there is also the issue of being proficient in utilizing the online assessment software properly to complete the assessment without undue anxiety. Assessments are stressful enough!


Whether or not written assessments should or should not be given online seems a bit moot. The reality is that online assessments are here now and will continue to be utilized more frequently as institutions, designers, instructors and learners become more proficient using them. Fortunately, many of the disadvantages discussed herein can be overcome with additional creativity, increased awareness of the issues involved, and/or increased proficiency using the software.


Oosterhof, A. Conrad, R.M., & Ely, D.P. (2008). Assessing learners online . Saddleback River, NJ:Pearson.


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