Technology offers a range of potential benefits to the teaching process, but these benefits are often coupled with challenges. Online assessment acts as one possible tool among many to measure success of students. The virtual classroom environment can have both positive and negative effects on this learning process. Having an awareness of the potential benefits and drawbacks of online assessment can help educators to structure such assessments effectively.
One of the primary advantages to online assessment is that in many cases students can receive virtually instant feedback. The opportunity to give students an immediate sense of how well they have done, or to provide information relevant to areas they need to work on, can increase their level of engagement with the subject. Instant feedback can only occur when assessment results can be automatically processed and calculated by computer.
Online assessments can only pose particular types of questions to students. If an online assessment system is processing student input, the range of possible question types is even further limited. Online assessments are particularly well suited to closed questions with a limited range of possible answers, for example multiple choice questions. For certain subjects, it can be difficult to define questions for which there are finite sets of possible correct answers. For example, practical skills can be challenging to assess in a virtual context.
The involvement of technology in online assessment can be both a challenge and an opportunity. For students who struggle with technology skills, online assessments may indicate a poorer level of performance in the subject than the student may demonstrate in other assessment contexts. However, since most fields involve computing skills, the use of online assessments gives students an opportunity to engage in the types of tasks they may need to rely on in the workplace or in future education.
Environment is a major factor in online assessments. For assessments served over the Web, the student can take part from virtually any physical location with a computer connected to the Internet. This can be a benefit, since students can choose to take part in environments in which they feel comfortable and relaxed. Potential drawbacks include the lack of certainty in terms of cheating, since anyone could accompany the student while they undertake the assessment. Students may also feel isolated from their peers if they engage in an online assessment alone.