E-assessment can be used to assess cognitive and practical abilities. Cognitive abilities are assessed using e-testing software; practical abilities are assessed using e-portfolios or simulation software.
An e-testing system comprises two components: (1) an assessment engine; and (2) an item bank. An assessment engine comprises the hardware and software required to create and deliver a test. Most e-testing engines run on standard hardware so the key characteristic is the software's functionality. There is a wide range of software packages. The software does not include the questions themselves; these are provided by an item bank. Once created, the engine uses the item bank to generate a test.
The creation of the item bank is more costly and time consuming than the installation and configuration of the assessment engine. There is currently no business model to support the creation of high quality item banks. Issues such as copyright and intellectual property rights remain unresolved.
E-assessment is becoming widely used. It has many advantages over traditional (paper-based) assessment. The advantages include:
There are also disadvantages. E-assessment systems are expensive to establish and not suitable for every type of assessment (such as extended response questions). The main expense is not technical; it is the cost of producing high quality assessment items.
The best examples follow a Formative Assessment structure and are called "Online Formative Assessment". This involves making an initial formative assessment by sifting out the incorrect answers. The author/teacher will then explain what the pupil should have done with each question. It will then give the pupil at least one practice at each slight variation of sifted out questions. This is the formative learning stage. The next stage is to make a Summative Assessment by a new set of questions only covering the topics previously taught. Some will take this even further and repeat the cycle such as BOFA which is aimed at the Eleven plus exam set in the UK.
Although these terms are commonly used interchangeably, they have distinct meanings.
Computer Assisted/Mediated Assessment refers to any application of computers within the assessment process; the role of the computer may be extrinsic or intrinsic. It is, therefore, a synonym for e-assessment which also describes a wide range of computer-related activities. Within this definition the computer often plays no part in the actual assessment of responses but merely facilitates the capture and transfer of responses between candidate and human assessor.
Computer-Based Assessment refers to assessment which is built around the use of a computer; the use of a computer is always intrinsic to this type of assessment. This can relate to assessment of IT practical skills or more commonly the on screen presentation of knowledge tests. The defining factor is that the computer is marking or assessing the responses provided from candidates.
Online assessment refers to assessment activity which requires the use of the internet. In reality few high stakes assessment sessions are actually conducted online in real time but the transfer of data prior to and after the assessment session is conducted via the internet. There are many examples of practice and diagnostic tests being run real time over the internet.