One sentiment we often run into is the idea that EMA (Electronic Management of Assessment) is largely similar to a Student Administration System (SAS). And we get the connotation. As soon as someone says ‘management’ in an educational setting, the first thing that comes to mind is a SAS, a place to record, document and manage educational information. And often the administration of EMA is placed within the educational institutions existing student administration system, adding to the misconception.
This is not what EMA is about. Both systems manage important functions for educational institutions, but the functions differ widely. While a SAS retains information about students and keeps it easily accessible, EMA partakes in and facilitates the process of creating the information in relation to exam and assessments.
WISEflow – and EMA in general – is rooted in the academic environment and among the students. Rather than being a system for the student administration alone, it is a system for the students, the educators and the assessors too. In EMA, it is important how these different academic groups work, as it is reflected in the system. Meanwhile, a SAS is set up with the student administration as its primary user group in mind. Because EMA is an academic system, it is also involved in the review and quality assurance processes that take place in the academic environment – not in the student administrative environment.
It’s Like a Marathon…
To make apparent the difference between the two systems, we can view the exam and assessment process as a marathon (which it probably can feel like for many groups involved).
A SAS is what creates the framework. It marks the beginning and the end of the run. It makes sure the appropriate people reach the starting line and it picks up again at the finish line, much like the official holding a stopwatch to record your time. It is a cross-section of the ‘before and after’ of the run.
An EMA is a longitudinal process, so almost the exact opposite. It is everything that goes on between the start and finish line. Here, the academic staff sets the route for the exams: where to go, what hills to go up and down, what kind of terrain etc. They use their subject knowledge to decide and organise the challenge of the run, rather than record its end points.
But EMA is also everything else you experience during your many, many miles of running. It is your pulse watch, monitoring your steady pace. It is the mile markers, telling you how much further to go. It is your favourite pair of running shoes, making sure each and every step you take gives you optimal propulsion towards your goal. It is a collection of tools that facilitate your process from start to finish and supports your physical condition – your academic capabilities – in performing in the best way possible.
And the marathon analogy might not be that farfetched, compared to the real world of educational institutions. All processes within exams and assessments, whatever group of stakeholders you are a part of, require you to solve a task satisfactorily within a given timeframe. Students have 4 hours to write an essay. Assessors have 4 weeks to grade 50 exams. Educators have to make exams that adequately challenge the students’ knowledge of the curriculum, all within a sharp deadline. Everything is timed, and everything has to be done properly. Performance is a considerable part of exams and assessment for everyone involved, which is why it is necessary to provide the best tools available, so that every user group – students, educators, assessors and exam administrators – can meet their objectives and excel.
EMA Is More Than Management
Working with EMA means working with a system that involves and revolves around the academic environment and the groups within it. Whether you are a student sitting exams, an assessor responsible for grading and feedback or an educator creating exams to put the academic prowess of students to the test, EMA supports the responsibilities of your individual academic position with specific tools and functions. An EMA even underpins the tasks of invigilators, system supporters and exam managers, ensuring that their functions within the assessment process works as smoothly as possible.
For providers of EMA systems, this requires development of functionalities with something other than optimal efficiency as the only centre of attention. Areas of importance for EMA include pedagogy, approaches to learn, communication and feedback to ensure the best possible experience for the different academic user groups.
For us, who make and maintain WISEflow, these areas have a hold in our own background in higher education. We ourselves have held these different positions before, so we have insights into what the academic yield of a proper assessment process should be: improving student learning. Considering assessment as a circular motion, the movement should go through the summative assessment of the student’s performance at an exam, thorough feedback on the results and a subsequent improvement of the academic performance of said student.
EMA provides the best support for this assessment cycle. Aside from a faster assessment and the use of assessment matrixes (Rubrics) to ensure transparency and consistency for both students and assessors, it provides a better platform for feedback. The communication between student and assessor, with the student’s exam submission at the centre, can to a much higher degree be made dialogical using modern means of communication, rather than the traditional unidirectional feedback. This ensures that the assessment cycle runs smoother and with a greater output in improving student learning.
Lastly, as an addendum to the feedback process, EMA also supports the cycle of assessment with analytical data, allowing assessors to monitor the progress of student learning. Learning analytics can provide valuable information about exams and assessments on many levels. At an institutional level, learning analytics can elucidate teaching methods and their effectiveness. For educators, it can help design a curriculum that best supports student learning and how to develop more effective teaching strategies. It can also help them evaluate to what degree a set learning outcome has been achieved, both by individual students and a class as a whole. For the students themselves, learning analytics can expound upon their learning progress, letting them set an academic course with measurable goals.