AI, disruption and assessment
The ongoing chatter about ChatGPT and its potential for disrupting higher education raises some interesting questions, particularly about assessment which is the key indicator success or failure in a subject and ultimately in the successful completion of post-graduate awards. It seems timely then to have a deeper look at what we mean by assessment, what we want it to do and how the various new realities are impacting on it.
Assessment, at our most basic level of understanding is meant to tell us whether the students have understood the material we have been teaching and they generally do this by answering questions, or writing an extended piece about the topic. However, a close look reveals there are various types of assessments that fulfil a variety of purposes.
There is diagnostic assessment which gives us information about the level of certain skills a student possesses. Generally in the international higher education space in Australia, this is about language ability and therefore the ability to understand the content that he or she will be exposed to. Students have to demonstrate a required language level. Course entry can include a mandatory amount of time studying English before beginning the course proper.
The type of assessment that is most common is known as summative assessment and asks students to provide a summation, or evidence that they have, understood and mastered the content of the course. Usually this is done through some sort of written assignment marked against criteria or a rubric. This has served the higher education community well for a long time.
Between diagnostic and summative, sits formative assessment. Formative assessment is the name given to all types of assessment used during a lecture or a course to map student progress – to see where they are. It can be informal questioning or more formal graded tasks such as a presentation, a video or any manner of task.
Cheating is as old as testing and academic integrity is important. ChatGPT does indeed offer some hi-tech cheating potential, particularly in the summative assessment scenario, but it should not be prohibited. We need to look at strengthening our formative assessment processes so we can track students, and technology offers some intelligent ways to do this, and we can sure that any summative assessment reflects what we have learned about the students throughout the study period. ChatGPT is a disruptor but it may make us better in the process.
Associate Professor Tom O’Connor is the Associate Director – Postgraduate (Melbourne) and Special Projects – Office of the Deputy Vice Chancellor