Rob May, YMCA director of awards, says it's time for exam boards to take the lead with e-assessment

Did you know that YMCA Awards is one of the most innovative exam boards for e-assessment? It's pioneering work with health and fitness qualifications has won recognition for the way it has moved assessment forward with the integration of online learning.

But it recognises that one exam board alone cannot make the difference needed in education, and this week it released its new report, Making digital learning work for the leisure sector to spread its message. YMCA director of awards, Rob May, explains here why it's time for all examiners to step forward into the digital world to make assessment more appropriate for learners.

"Four years ago the landmark Further Education Learning Technologies Action Group (FELTAG) report called for regulators to loosen restrictions to allow exam boards to innovate with technology-enabled learning and assessment. The response from Ofqual last year had been a long time coming and, while positive, also remained frustratingly ambiguous.

Jisc survey reveals assessment remains largely paper-based

Partners logo"Despite more and more colleges embracing learning technology, a Jisc survey published in 2016 revealed many inconsistencies in the impact and adoption of e-assessment, with many awarding organisations still not offering it. The findings raise concerns over the ability of colleges to offer a truly immersive digital learning option when a key component of the experience – the assessment – remains largely a paper-based, all-or-nothing ordeal.

"There are exceptions. In October 2016 YMCA Awards became the first awarding organisation to win the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) ‘Innovation of the Year’ award for two years in a row, and on both occasions for learning technology, proving that awarding bodies can still be innovative and deliver on the FELTAG recommendations.

“Our ambition is to reconceive most learner and customer interactions for the digital age. This goes beyond e-assessment to how we support learners and help tutors prepare for exams and get the most out of their students.

'The first 100% online regulated course in fitness sector'

"YMCA Awards’ digital offer currently extends to e-assessment, online approvals for centres, Open Badges, self-marking digital workbooks, gamified online revision resources, e-learning courses and a handy, free learner app to help students understand the exams process and work out their optimum revision style. Last year we became the first awarding body in the fitness sector to offer a '100 per cent online' course leading to a regulated qualification, working with online learning provider ICS Learn. The move has proved controversial in the fitness sector, and was the subject of a debate at the UK Active conference in November 2016, but the decision was not taken lightly.

“We approached the project with a healthy amount of scepticism, learning and working in this sector is inherently a social experience, but the technology offered by ICS to support the learner journey, from multimedia, e-portfolio, forums and one-on-one e-proctoring was highly impressive. We applied the same diligence that we would for any centre delivering regulated qualifications and are satisfied that ICS meet those requirements.

"We also came away with a better understanding of the technologies available to learners now, which we need to incorporate into our thinking.

'Embracing technology-enabled learning is not straightforward'

YMCA report pic

"Embracing technology-enabled learning and assessment has not been straight-forward for YMCA Awards, and at the Federation of Awarding Bodies conference last October, other awarding bodies complained that they too are struggling to respond to the overwhelming amount of public policy changes. The amount of change not only creates a volatile economy but adds so much cost and complexity to core awarding body operations.

"The result is that exam boards struggle to find the bandwidth for research, experimentation and failure, which are all necessary for innovation. We’ve had the backing of our board since 2015 to increase our focus on learning technology. And we’ve taken that forward by focusing on design, creating demand – rather than opting to ‘wait and see’ – and committing to an idea. We’ve had to back ourselves and hold our nerve even when times are tough!

"Although intended as a strategy to drive value across our vocational qualifications, learning technology has now become a distinctive capability for our awarding organisation and the investment has paid off with YMCA Awards shortlisted for two more industry awards last autumn: 'Excellence in the design of learning content' at Learning Technologies 2016 and 'Best use of technology' at the UK Active Awards."

Rob May is the director of YMCA Awards, a newly elected member of the FAB Board of Directors and has held senior management positions at OCR and City & Guilds where he led the project to introduce the first verifiable e-certificates for vocational qualifications.

<pMore information

YMCA has released its new report, Making digital learning work for the leisure sector
YMCA Awards is a non-profit organisation. All revenues go back into developing educational products. It is part of Central YMCA, a registered charity and the world’s first and oldest YMCA, and founder of the global movement which today has more than 160 million members worldwide. 
YMCA Awards won "Innovation of the Year 2016" at the FAB Awards on October 26, 2016, for Online Learning Games. The Award was sponsored by The British Council (F).
For more information, contact Debbie Attwood at Central YMCA on 020 7343 1863

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