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Digital exams in schools should become the norm by 2025, report suggests

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Digital exams should take the place of pen and paper booklets by 2025 in order to make them more accessible and relevant to the modern world, a new report suggests.

Jisc, a company which provides digital services for UK education, said technology offers opportunities to test knowledge and skills “in a more realistic and motivating way” than pen and paper tests.

In its report, 'The future of assessment', the company also states that the accessibility features built into many standard programs and applications can make it much easier to support individual needs using digital assessments.

The not-for-profit educational body warned that such a shift would not be “trivial” and would take a lot of time and investment to implement.

Jisc argues that there is already a “move away from the traditional essay or exam” and instead “assessments are building in authenticity by asking students to develop websites, set up online profiles, shoot and edit videos, and use social media”.

It also suggests it is “worth experimenting” with the use of biometric data, such as fingerprints, to help prevent exam cheating.

Andy McGregor, director of edtech at Jisc, said: “If used well as part of good assessment design, then emerging technologies can transform the way students are evaluated so that it is more relevant to their careers, more accessible and more secure, while promoting wellbeing and removing some of the administrative burden on teaching staff.”

The report argues that technology can make assessment “smarter, faster, fairer and more effective”, but that the pace of change in the UK was “too slow”. The report highlights the use of digital exams for more than five millions students in India.

Between December 2018 and August 2019, India's national testing agency assessed 5.5 million candidates for entrance to education establishments, with each pupil using an e-card with their thumbprint and photo to access the examination room.

The question paper is also delivered in an encrypted format to every exam centre and is only decrypted when the candidate clicks on the question paper.

In its targets and recommendations, Jisc said there should be a general adoption of biometric authentication to check students’ identity and help exams be sat remotely.

“Use of biometric data, such as face recognition or fingerprints, can make it virtually impossible for one student to impersonate another,” the report said.

Data and analytics should also be used to ensure assessment is effective in the long term.

Traditional exams have come under threat from new technologies in recent years, with an inquiry from the Joint Council for Qualifications last year recommending that all watches be banned from assessment halls as they have become too “smart”.

In 2019, Edexcel started placing microchips in packets of UK school exam papers as part of an effort to prevent tests from being leaked online.

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