Elaine Huber

Transforming Online Assessment in Business Education: What do we need to know now

Elaine Huber’s collaborators on this project are: Andrew Brodzeli, University of Sydney; Andrew Cram, University of Sydney; Lynne Harris, Head of Teaching and Learning Chartered Accountants Australia New Zealand (CAANZ); Corina Raduescu, University of Sydney; Amanda White, CA, University of Technology Sydney; Sue Wright , University of Technology Sydney; Sandris Zeivots; University of Sydney.

The pandemic reignited more innovative approaches to teaching and learning. It also gave us an opportunity to consider how we might conduct assessments differently in business education. 

The intricate dance of managing expectations across different stakeholders has never been more dynamic.

In a recent exploratory study, educational researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of Technology Sydney  shed light on the nuances of designing online assessments that uphold academic integrity, assure quality feedback, and enhance student experiences in business education. 

Why business education?

Business education, bound by stringent professional accreditations, is grappling with maintaining standards while navigating the complexities of online assessments. The Australian Business Deans Council (ABDC) acts as the collective voice of Australian university business schools, which educate about one in six of all domestic students ­and nearly 40 percent of the nation’s international students. Our research project commissioned by the ABDC investigated current evidence about the forms of online assessment practices and developed a framework to guide best-practice decision-making about online assessments.

Aiming for Quality and Integrity

Drawing upon an extensive literature review and empirical data from surveys and focus groups, our research identified six key considerations essential for high-quality online assessments: ensuring academic integrity, delivering quality feedback, supporting a positive learning experience, maintaining the integrity of student information, using authentic content that reflects real-world scenarios and guaranteeing equal opportunity for success. 

A Framework to Guide Practice in Business Education

Our findings culminated in a proposed framework aimed at aiding educators in their decision-making for online assessment design. This framework takes into account the nuanced scales of delivery, resource limitations, institutional policies, and accreditation demands that shape educators’ practices. 

The imperative of authenticity

A key insight from our research was the need for authenticity in assessments, ensuring that what students learn is not only tested but also applied, resembling real-world scenarios they are likely to encounter. This authentic approach not only engages students more deeply but also reinforces the relevance and applicability of their learning beyond the classroom.

Fostering Academic Integrity in Business Education

In an online world, upholding academic integrity becomes increasingly complex. Our framework suggests the need for innovative assessment methods that can mitigate the risks of dishonesty while maintaining the credibility of the educational process. For example an approach that is growing in popularity is the Interactive Oral. Our study explores how academic integrity can be woven seamlessly into the fabric of online assessments, preserving the trust and value inherent in higher education. Since the study was published, generative AI has increased the access to mechanisms that enable academic dishonesty, making this issue even more critical to understand and address. In response to this development, integrity is receiving more attention than other considerations in the design of online assessments. 

Quality Feedback Through Dialogue

Feedback in the learning process cannot be understated. It is the subject of many studies over decades of educational research. Our study delves into how quality feedback can be integrated into online assessments, creating a dialogue between educators and students. This exchange not only clarifies expectations and enhances learning but also allows for the continuous improvement of assessment design itself. A way of doing this well is to invite students to contribute their voices to a co-design or co-creation approach to the assessment design.

Tackling trade-offs head-on

Our findings also underscore the complexity of these factors influencing assessment design. Focus group participants highlighted the constant negotiation of constraints in the assessment design process. This includes the delicate balance between ensuring academic integrity, fostering a positive learning environment, and addressing scalability. For example, while traditional assessments such as exams and essays are familiar and easily translatable to the online format, students perceive them as boring. Online assessments often lack innovation and fail to leverage the potential of technology such as enhancing authenticity through simulations and real world cases. I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS MEANS

Real-world Implications

Our study not only contributes to the scholarly dialogue between educators and higher education providers but also resonates with the professional accreditation bodies of various industries such as Chartered Accountants, Property Management, Chartered Financial Analysts etc. The intricate dance of managing expectations across different stakeholders has never been more dynamic. In the next stage of our research project, we aim to validate the framework elements across relevant stakeholder groups including students, educational decision and policy makers, accreditation body representatives and employers.

The future is now

And then came GenAI. When ChatGPT and its allies landed in full force we quickly harnessed the access to our stakeholder groups to explore their perspectives on the use of AI tools. We used thematic analysis to validate the framework and uncover new elements and their relationships. Preliminary findings indicate concerns from educational decision makers (financial costs), employers (who defines authenticity), accrediting bodies (academic integrity), students (feedback), and educators (differentiating summative and formative assessment). 

Join the conversation

In the complete paper, “Towards a framework for designing and evaluating online assessments in business education,” we present a rich, data-driven discourse on the intricacies of assessment design. You can also read more on our theoretical underpinnings, the voices of educators shaping the next generation, and the potential pathways our framework paves for future research and practice. We hope to continue a conversation aimed at changing digital assessment practices, and offer a guide for those at the forefront of educational innovation. Our website is the place for this, see http://bizonlineassessment.com  

Elaine Huber, associate professor at the University of Sydney, has been designing curriculum and teaching adults for over 20 years and is currently the Academic Director of the Business Co-Design team at the University of Sydney. Elaine leads this multiskilled team of educational developers, learning designers, media producers and research associates, working together with discipline staff, students and industry partners on a large strategic project called Connected Learning at Scale.