Quality assurance of computer‐assisted assessment: practical and strategic issues

Date01 March 2000
Published date01 March 2000
AuthorColleen McKenna,Joanna Bull
Subject MatterEducation
Quality assurance of
assessment: practical
and strategic issues
Colleen McKenna and
Joanna Bull
The age of the computerised examination is
upon us. In the USA, approximately one
million examinations for undergraduates and
postgraduates were delivered and marked by
computers in the 1997-1998 academic year,
under the auspices of a national testing
programme. In the short term, the use of
computerised testing in the USA is predicted
to rise dramatically (Bennett, 1998).
Computer-assisted assessment (CAA) is also
a popular assessment method in Australia,
with significant usage at the University of
Sydney (Dalziel and Gazzard, 1999) and
Curtin University of Technology, which
administers approximately 30,000 student
tests annually, most of them for summative
use (Sly and Rennie, 1999).
Albeit on a more modest scale, several
trends in UK higher education have led to the
introduction of CAA as an assessment
method for undergraduates. The recent
increase in student numbers, often coupled
with a relative decrease in staff resources, has
motivated the search for more efficient ways
of assessing large student groups.
Additionally, enthusiasm across the sector for
the embedding of computer-aided learning
(CAL) materials into teaching (fostered in
part by national initiatives such as the
Teaching and Learning Technology
Programme, Computers in Teaching
Initiative and the Joint Information Systems
Committee programmes) have led to a small-
scale integration of computerised assessment
tools (often for formative or self-testing use)
into modules which use ICT. Finally, post-
Dearing emphases on learning and teaching
have inspired practitioners to consider
expanding methods by which students are
assessed in order to enhance the learning
With a few exceptions, much of the
development and integration of CAA has
been done in an ad hoc fashion, with
individuals or small groups of innovators
responsible for the construction and
implementation of assessments. As uptake of
CAA grows, it becomes essential that it is
embedded within the examination structures
of universities and that the full range of
quality assurance measures is applied to its
usage, particularly where it is used for
summative purposes. The combination of
educational technology with examination
means that there are a variety of quite diverse
The authors
Colleen McKenna is the Project Officer and Joanna Bull
is the Project Manager of the CAA Centre, The Teaching
and Learning Directorate, University of Luton, UK. E-mail:
Assessment, Quality, Management, Evaluation,
This paper takes as its starting point observations and
concerns of quality assurance staff in UK HEIs about the
use of computer-assisted assessment (CAA) collected in
the 1999 National Survey into CAA. The issues raised are
grouped into three categories: pedagogical; operational;
and institutional; and the quality assurance issues for
each area are addressed. Emphasis is placed on the
institutional management of CAA, the development of
quality assurance regulations and protocols and the
evaluation of CAA systems. The paper makes suggestions
about the co-ordination of CAA within an institution and
speculates on the future developments in computerised
assessments and the increased importance of ensuring
Electronic access
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is
available at
Quality Assurance in Education
Volume 8 .Number 1 .2000 .pp. 24±31
#MCB University Press .ISSN 0968-4883

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