The IBO does already offer digital assessment in its Middle Years Programme (MYP) with optional two-hour exams provided through mixed-mark, on-screen examinations in subjects such as Language and literature, Geography, History, maths and Sciences - something it has done since 2016.
"Digital assessment can open doors to a model that supports learning better than the traditional model…We are trying to create the conditions for us to move to that," he said. "I think we have now come to the moment for the IB to move into that area and that is something that we are looking at."
However, Mr. Heinonen said he thinks it is "wise of the IB not to rush into this area" for the Diploma Programme to ensure that any decisions it makes are well-thought-out and have real benefits for schools.
Commenting further, he said, "this is an area where it's very, very important to make ethical, sustainable solutions because with digital assessment you can go badly wrong, because the digital world makes it so easy to measure certain things that might not be at all worth assessing, which would not be supporting learning, which is the aim of assessment. For that reason, we really have to be very conscious of the solutions we are [proposing]."
Mr. Heinonen was not willing to provide any detailed information on what the online assessment process for the Diploma might involve, but said that he anticipated more information being revealed in the months ahead. "We are in the middle of the strategy process for the organisation - this is definitely one of the areas we are looking at...."
In a statement, the IBO said: "The IB is building the capability to define a strategy/plan in this space. We are investigating the options for potential improvements that digital assessments can bring in validity and flexibility of assessments."
According to TES, initial feedback from IB leaders at schools around the world was broadly positive about the idea of digital assessments for the Diploma Programme, although they obviously wanted more details.
Ian Thurston, Principal of Dubai International Academy, Emirates Hills, the first full IB Continuum school in the UAE, said he thought such a move was a "good thing" as it would bring more consistency to how many students engage with the IB's assessments.
"It is students' general mode of work mainly these days anyway and would remove the need for us to train students to type up to Year 11, then write again from Year 12," he said, noting that during the pandemic, electronic exams proved more resilient than traditional exams, with MYP exams going ahead as normal in the UAE, whereas IBDP exams did not take place.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com also spoke directly with a number of other Principals of Dubai-based IB curriculum schools, whose responses were generally cautious but positive.
Ed Pearce, Director, at Esol Education's Fairgreen International School in Sustainable City told us:
“Experiences during the recent lockdowns as a result of the global pandemic have demonstrated the importance of online integration of traditional modes of operating. The IB looks to promote global citizenship, therefore it is inevitable that a shift to online assessments will be imminent and I commend the IB for raising the conversation. Of course, there will be many questions, and I would urge the IB to take a collaborative approach and consult with its member schools to support a smooth transition. The potential for a more innovative and integrated approach to assessments will resonate with the pillars and values of Fairgreen International School.”
Simon Herbert, Head of School/CEO, at GEMS International School – Al Khail commented:
“A cautious approach is necessary for any major assessment change, even if the direction of travel does appear to be online assessment. It is certainly a world that our students inhabit, yet the benefits must be carefully weighed before the current system of assessment at DP and CP is dropped. I am sure that the IB will consult broadly, particularly with experienced MYP and DP/CP teachers. The pandemic has illustrated just how flexible and adaptable schools are when switching to online work; however, it is also the case that worldwide we have seen some students who do not have access to appropriate technology and who have suffered learning loss, so the IB will need to consider the benefits for all of a switch to online assessment. I look forward to hearing the next steps in the consultation process.”
And Robert Ellis – Principal at Emirates International School Jumeirah - the first Dubai school to offer the IB Diploma Programme - said:
“I do welcome the thought process of going down a digital route. Yes, there are issues such as access in certain parts of the world, but I feel that there are or will be solutions to this. If we consider the current solution of thousands of exam papers printed, circulated around the world, sat and then sent back, scanned and marked online, it does seem archaic. There must be a better system and so this is certainly something that has to be investigated. However, it must be done collaboratively with the schools and the students to ensure that the ultimate goal of fairness is still attained.”
Our final contributor, Monica Martin, IB Coordinator, at GEMS American Academy – Abu Dhabi told us:
“The move to digital assessments would align well with the IBO’s desire to create rich learning and assessment opportunities for students. Further, online assessments would align with the MYP E-assessments that many of our students experience in their learning journey. With the advent of the digital learning pyramid, students interface with technology in an ongoing manner. It is almost as if our current approach of capturing written responses by hand hinders the delivery of what students know and how they effectively communicate what it is that they have learned.”
If you are a student, teacher or Principal in the UAE at a school offering the IB Diploma programme, feel free to share your comments and thoughts with us on this topic.