Review: EconTEAching Session 1: Assessment in the Brave New World, by Prof Cloda Jenkins (UCL)

On April 29th 2020, CTaLE and the University of Warwick Department of Economics co-hosted the first EconTEAching Session on Assessment in the Brave New World. The session featured Dr. Stefania Paredes Fuentes and chaired by Prof. Parama Chaudhury. The session live-stream can be found on the CTaLE YouTube channel.

During the session there were a lot of great questions raised, both on the Zoom chat and in YouTube comments. The main issues raised by attendees are summarised here and you can find the responses in the video.


Not surprisingly there were lots of comments around cheating. How to prevent it? What evidence is there of cheating and contract cheating in particular? The presenters noted that there were things to try but no real solution except writing assessments that reduce the incentive to cheat or the ability to cheat. Use of Turnitin or other software to detect plagiarism was mentioned although it was noted in the chat that it is not very effective for maths-style assessments. You can find more ideas in Steffie’s blog post, No-Panic Guide to Assessment in the Time of Crisis.

Multiple Choice Tests

The value of online multiple-choice tests was discussed. One participant argued that it is possible (though not easy) to test higher order skills using MCQ. It was also noted that there is scope for individualised exams by having question banks and randomising the questions across students. It was recognised that people would not have these large question banks already prepared which can be a lot of work.

Accessibility Issues

On the subject of reliable online assessments, questions were raised about whether universities were facing issues with students not being able to connect to the internet and what they were doing about this. It was noted that risk of unstable connections was an issue everywhere, for example rural USA and UK as well as China. One suggestion was made to make assessments so they can be done offline. No typing live so that students just need enough access to download and upload a file. Giving a long time-window for the assessment helps. However, a comment was made that no matter what window you give at least half of the students will submit in the last 15 minutes which can lead to an overload on university systems.

Group Work

There were also questions around group work. Was there value in trying to do group assessment? How can it be done well online? A connection was made to the cheating topic. Should we accept that students will collaborate and so create assessments that allow for it rather than worrying about it? From a different angle, another comment was made that if we teach students to collaborate, which we should do, we should then recognise that they will collaborate in assessments that are supposed to be individual. A follow-up suggestion was made that maybe we should just accept collaboration will happen, like it does in the real world, and design assessments knowing this. It was noted that at work when we have a problem, we discuss with colleagues how to solve it, combine their ideas with our own and come up with our own answer. Can we replicate that in online assessments? It was also noted in the chat that collaboration is even more important in an online world to create social connectivity for students.

Alternative Assessments

Not surprisingly there were requests for practical tips on how to revamp closed book exams that had already been written into alternative forms of assessment. For example, one participant wondered how to convert a standard introductory microeconomics exam, with definitions and problem solving, into required university alternative assessment of a presentation and take-home coursework or paper. One concern was whether students could cope with tasks that required higher level of understanding than had been taught. There was also a question about how to cover several topics from the course material in one paper. It was noted that it is hard to dramatically change the nature of assessment at short notice, particularly if teaching has finished and students are not prepared for something different. This raised the more general question of how to prepare students for alternative forms of assessments.

It was noted that it was not only closed book exams that were affected by the move online. There was a discussion of how to bring face-to-face assessed presentations online, with the Chair (Parama) discussing how she asked students to record their presentation, in a group, and then answer questions from her in a discussion forum. EconTEAching session 4 on May 27th 2020 will discuss video presentations in more detail. Another participant shared the view that the use of online Q&A Forums were useful, and to have contingency plans for students to be able to contact in other ways such as the chat facility in teaching platforms or by email.

It is clear that there are still a lot of questions to work through with online assessment but a general feeling from the session is that we now have an opportunity to reflect on how we assess in economics and to make changes for the future rather than as a one-off for COVID-19. Not everyone agreed, with one participant thinking that we will and should go back to the usual way of assessing. Another participant noted that it would potentially vary by lecturers, with some liking the new world and others not liking it at all. It was suggested that we should find out how students felt about alternative assessments as well as lecturers when deciding whether and how to take changes forward.

Thanks to Parama, Steffie and Tim (Burnett) for the very interesting discussion.

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