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It's a Vision Thing. 5 problems with the Digital School Exams vision, and how to improve it.

Why are we digitising school exams? Major UK exam owners made their 2023 autumn announcements, and created a momentary news splash. But the story appears to have stalled. Have the Manuscript Martyrs won? Or does the sector's vision need a re-think? Do they actually have a digital exam vision? Here are five problems the school digital exam mission has, and how it can be improved.

1 No Digital Exam vision School exams seem stuck in a political holding pattern, such as digitisation of England’s Reception Baseline Assessment. Countries such as Australia, Denmark, Ethiopia, Estonia, Finland, Indonesia, Latvia, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, UAE, and West Africa are getting on with it. What is the British digital exam vision?

Create and Deliver a Vision everyone understands a) Identify the need for change: why paper exams oppress too many learners. State the challenges - show they've already been overcome. b) Articulate the vision: define the ideal digital exam delivery scenarios, stating the wins for equity and accessibility. c) Action: share the vision concisely, and effectively on platforms that matter to stakeholders.

2 Few stories show positive effects Too many journalists and organisations show muddled thinking, clinging to weak tropes about ‘march of the robots’, AI, and fact-free catastrophizing. Open goals such as environmental benefits were confusing and fumbled, and stories still include risible evidence-free rent-a-quotes.

Too many digital exam stories give oxygen to risible evidence-free rent-a-quotes

Craft a compelling narrative of successful deployment Show and tell how digital exams work for different stakeholders. Paint a picture of how digital deployment already works in different settings. Explain what off-site delivery of school digital exams looks like. Detail how to procure the IT kit. Show how to source external exam delivery capacity.

3 Key benefits remain elusive The ‘back catalogue’ of digital exam benefits from the last 30 years are still obscure, and not mainstream. To UK educators, digital exams are unspoken B-Sides; the success stories should be as common as Abba.

UK educators think digital school exams are obscure, like B-Sides. The success stories should be as common as Abba.

Create and showcase directly relevant examples Deliver a sustained programme of sharing examples of digital exam deployment examples. Leverage practitioner communities who actively lead and support exam delivery.

4 No curation or evaluation of digital school exams Trade bodies and exam owners must shape discussion, so regular folk can understand digital exams. Otherwise we have quotes from a handwriting course provider and a bizarre handwriting association. Why are these backwater oddballs getting coverage?

Why are backwater oddballs such as handwriting associations getting quotes in mainstream UK media on digital exams, and not the trade sector?

Trade Bodies such as ALT, BESA, eAA, FAB, FLIP, and JCQ must Curate, Educate, and Guide exam and tech people together on a regular, scheduled basis. Agree on shared principles, language, evidence, case studies, and demands. They must move the debate on, and relate proven practices. Update glossaries. And are we talking about e-Assessment, digital exams, e-testing, on-screen, or something else?

5 No more heroes? Sector leaders popped-up in October, then disappeared, and journalists moved on. When only 51% of teachers believe SEN learners would benefit from on-screen exams, that is deeply worrying. Where are the heroes and figureheads banging the digital exam drum day-in day-out, moving that percentage up?

Use the digital exam and education influencers There are some very famous learners out there who can move the debate on. Leaders must be visible and actively winning over doubters, removing blockers to progress.

It’s 2024 – know and understand how to reach your stakeholders!


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